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Now-senior pitcher Eli Trop winds out against Columbia on May 19, 2023. Credit: Benjamin McAvoy-Bickford

Although records are meant to be broken in sports, some streaks are better left untouched. This could not be truer for Penn baseball, who suffered its first regular season series sweep since February of last year.

Over the weekend, Penn (11-13, 3-3 Ivy) faced Columbia (10-12, 5-1 Ivy) in a tough road test in the Big Apple. Playing under cool and windy conditions, the Red and Blue came into the series on a hot streak, having won eight out of their previous 10 matchups. Despite the momentum, the Lions went on to thoroughly dominate the Quakers with an impressive offensive showing.

Dating back to last season, the latest installment of a budding rivalry between the last two Ivy League Champions continued to take form. In 2023, Penn swept Columbia in a regular season meeting, before also defeating the Lions in the Ivy League tournament. Only this time, it was Columbia that turned the tables and swept Penn by final scores of 14-6, 11-1, and 9-7 over the course of three games. Heading into this season, Penn and Columbia were both ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in preseason rankings, respectively.  

During the first game of the doubleheader on Saturday, the Lions made a strong opening statement. Going up against the reigning Ivy League Pitcher of the Week, Columbia chased senior right-handed pitcher Cole Zaffiro off the mound with multiple hits and home runs. An All-Ivy first team selection last season, Zaffiro gave up six earned runs and two home runs, allowing Columbia to get out to an early 6-1 lead. The Quakers would answer back in the seventh inning with a grand slam by sophomore outfielder Ryan Taylor to cut the lead down to 9-6. Despite a valiant effort, the Lions put away the Quakers with four runs in the eighth inning, tallying a total of 14 hits on the game.

“Disappointing I think is a good way to look at it. [Columbia] played well the entire weekend,” coach John Yurkow said. “We were a little sloppy, didn’t really field the ball, [failed] to make some easy plays… didn’t pitch great at times, and just kept stacking hits and walks on each other.”

In the second game of the doubleheader, a similar storyline unfolded. Facing junior right-handed pitcher Ryan Dromboski, Columbia continued to light up the scoreboard, driving in seven runs in the first three innings alone. Unable to stop the onslaught of hits, the Quakers fell into a deep hole that was too big to overcome. The only run the Red and Blue would score that game was off a home run by senior third baseman Wyatt Henseler.

“We just got to have a little more focus on both ends. Make plays… we just didn’t do a job of that today or yesterday. There were makeable plays.” Yurkow said.

In the closest match of the weekend, the final day brought intense back-and-forth action. In the third inning, freshman infielder Nick Spaventa doubled to score two runs for the Quakers. However, this lead was short lived as the Lions responded with four runs over the course of the next two innings. A standout performance on the day came from Henseler once again, who doubled in three RBIs and homered into deep left field. Once again, the Quakers were on the losing end by only a couple of runs.

“We got punched in the face this weekend … I don’t think there’s any better way of putting it,” Henseler said. “Just hoping to flush it and get ready for Tuesday [against Saint Joseph’s].”

It was apparent early on that Columbia’s offensive firepower would prove to be a problem for a Penn team that struggled to put away batters and keep runners off base in recent games. The Lions scored at least nine runs in each game, nearing the double-digit mark. With this in mind, Henseler credited the competitiveness of the team’s rivalry with Columbia as a testament to their performance.  

“Over the last couple years, you could see the trend at least from my three years here so far against Columbia. One person gets punched in the throat, the other one gets mad, the next time the other team gets them,” Henseler said. “We’ve gone back and forth with them the past couple of years. At the end of the day, they just showed up and wanted it more than us this weekend. It comes down to a mentality that we just didn’t have this weekend.”

Looking ahead, Penn baseball will go on the road to face Saint Joseph’s on Tuesday before continuing Ivy League play against Yale on Saturday. The team looks to move past its poor showing against Columbia, and prove that getting swept is not a part of their DNA.