Ivy League baseball has a new king, and the Quakers wear the crown.
On Monday afternoon, Penn baseball took their place on the conference throne, waxing Princeton 16-3 in the championship game of the Ivy League Tournament. The lopsided victory demonstrated the dominant, all-around attack that has made the Quakers the class of the conference over the past two seasons — completing a championship chase that was 28 years in the making.
“It’s been a long time,” head coach John Yurkow said. “Last year, I felt like we just didn’t play well on the last day of the season, so these guys came back with a real sense of urgency. They worked their butts off; totally committed. At the end of the day, that’s why we were able to do this."
In 2022, Penn was just one win away from an Ivy League Championship before losing two straight to Columbia on their home turf. This season, back at Meiklejohn Stadium, the Red and Blue finished the job.
Freshman right fielder Jarrett Pokrovsky led the way for Penn offensively, highlighting the day with a grand slam in the third inning and winning the Ivy League Tournament Most Outstanding Player award.
Junior pitcher Cole Zaffiro, a first-team All-Ivy selection, was brilliant on the mound, a fitting final hurrah for a Penn pitching staff that has ruled the Ivy all season long. Zaffiro was the losing pitcher in the decisive third game of last year’s championship series, but poured in a redemptive effort, fanning four batters and letting up just one earned run over five innings.
“One word that pops into mind is steady,” Yurkow said of Zaffiro’s performance. “Zaffiro is as steady as they come and it’s really good to have that demeanor as a starting pitcher because he never gets too high, never gets too low.”
The Tigers have blasted their way to the Ivy League championship as something of a glass cannon. Princeton features the conference leader in home runs (Kyle Vinci), on-base percentage (Scott Bandura), and walks (Matt Scannell), but also field the league’s second-worst ERA and worst fielding percentage.
While the prolific offensive production was not on display Monday, the disastrous defense certainly was. The Tigers, working with a depleted bullpen in their fourth game in three days, walked a whopping 14 batters, their most in any game this season, and every Penn batter walked at least once. The Princeton pitching staff also committed seven hit-by-pitches. Both teams finished with nine hits, but the Tigers’ rampant mistakes dictated the day.
Free bases weren't the only driving force in Penn's offense, though, proven in the 3rd inning when Pokrovsky made his second game-changing play in as many days. Yesterday, Pokrovsky’s skillful dodge of a Harvard tag gave way to a six-run inning that ultimately won Penn the game against Harvard. Today, he approached the plate with the bases loaded and the chance to make his mark on history — and make his mark Pokrovsky did.
On the second pitch of the at-bat, Pokrovsky drove one to deep left field, the ball hanging perilously on the line between fair and foul. As Meiklejohn Stadium held its breath, the ball stayed fair and sailed over the wall, breaking the game open 5-0 and earning the freshman a hero’s welcome as he reached home plate.
“We called timeout, and it relaxed me a little bit, and I was able to focus on getting a good swing off,” Pokrovsky said.
Princeton's biggest defensive meltdown came in the fourth inning, when the Quakers tallied eight runs on just one hit. The Princeton defense came completely off the rails, giving way to an inning that included six walks, an error, and three HBPs. The Tigers faithful in attendance were left in stunned disbelief, as a 13-0 deficit signaled the inevitable coronation of Ivy League baseball’s newest champion.
“Those guys are fatigued,” Yurkow said of Princeton’s pitching staff. “They’re throwing some guys that haven’t pitched a lot, and it showed. They hit some guys, they couldn’t command the ball, and we made ‘em pay.”
It has been nearly 30 years since Penn last claimed the Ivy League championship crown. The Red and Blue’s last title came in 1995, when they were led by current Team USA Manager Mark DeRosa. Now, the Quakers are back on top, and they feel the win was worth the wait.
“This is the goal for every team in the Ivy League,” Pokrovsky said. “When we started winning games, our bats got hot, and we knew we had the opportunity to come out and win. I actually came to the game when they lost [last year], so we just wanted to do everything in our power to prevent that from happening.”
The victory also earns the Red and Blue a trip to NCAA Regionals, where their destination and opponent will be revealed at the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on May 29. Yurkow says that the team will do everything they can to prepare for the challenges to come, but the next few days will be dedicated to rest and celebration.
For now, the Quakers can enjoy their seat on the throne.