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Junior third baseman Wyatt Henseler throws the ball during NCAA Tournament game against Samford on June 3 (Photo courtesy of Mike Nance). Credit: Picasa

The wheels finally came off for the “Quake Show” on Sunday night as Penn baseball saw its 10-game winning streak come to an end in a 11-2 drubbing at the hands of Southern Mississippi (​​44-18, 22-8 Sun Belt). 

No Ivy League team has ever made an appearance at the NCAA Super Regionals. Heading into the night, Penn (34-15, 16-5 Ivy) just needed one more win to make its way into program — and conference — history. Unfortunately, the team found itself on the wrong end of an emphatic statement. In what will go down as one of team’s most disastrous innings of the season, the Quakers saw their one-run deficit widen to nine as Southern Mississippi scored eight runs in the top of the ninth.

In a game full of mistakes, it took a poor performance from both the offense and defense to completely unravel the complete baseball team that fans of the group had grown accustomed to watching in recent weeks. 

Penn started off hot as junior third baseman Wyatt Henseler knocked the ball out of the park on his first at bat to give the team a one-run lead in the bottom of the first inning. Coming back from a shoulder injury, senior left-handed pitcher Owen Coady did just enough to ensure that the Quakers conceded only one run in a situation where the bases were loaded. Senior outfielder Seth Werchan scored in the bottom of the third to give Penn back the lead at 2-1. 

After a clean half inning from Coady, the game was very much in Penn’s hands when disaster struck and the tides completely turned. With the bases loaded, two outs, and a full count, junior outfielder Calvin Brown made a critical mistake. Brown took too long getting ready for the pitch, resulting in an inning-ending called third strike that completely defanging the most potent scoring opportunity the team had managed to set up thus far in the game. 

This would prove to be the last opportunity that Penn would have to score. Southern Mississippi junior left-handed pitcher Justin Storm would go on to put on a show for the spirited Eagles fans who had made the five-hour trip to support the team. He achieved a season high of 10 strikeouts, with only one out of the 18 batters he faced managing to get a hit off of him. The sole hit came from freshman infielder Jarrett Pokrovsky, who hit a double into left field in the bottom of the ninth inning. 

The Eagles entered the matchup with four of the top six hitters in the Auburn Regional, and the Penn bullpen struggled. Early on, Coady struggled to find the strike zone with his fastballs, walking several players. Despite these problems, he managed to pitch four whole innings while conceding only one run. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Tommy Delany came in to start the fifth inning, but would see his time on the mound cut short after three straight walks to start the sixth inning. 

His successor, junior right-handed pitcher Eli Trop, ended up conceding two runs and was lucky to see what would have been a three-run home run drift just wide of the fairplay pole. Freshman right-handed pitcher Thomas Shurtleff relieved him at the top of ninth inning only to give up four more runs. The sophomore left-handed pitcher Will Tobin who came in to close the inning out struggled, giving up four runs as well. 

Adding on to the bullpen struggles, mistakes on routine throws and catches cost the team dearly. While the game was still tight, overthrows by Penn gifted Southern Mississippi two unearned runs that ultimately gave the Eagles the lead heading into the seventh inning. 

Ultimately, the combination of a struggling bullpen and a sputtering offense proved to be insurmountable. Fortunately for the Red and Blue, they will have one more opportunity Monday afternoon at 3 p.m. EST to avenge their loss and take one step closer to a ticket to the biggest event in college baseball: the Men's College World Series.