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Credit: Samantha Turner

A second chance often takes on different meanings for different people. For Penn baseball, a second chance meant a shot at an Ivy League championship — an opportunity that the Quakers would not let go.

Penn (24-23, 11-10 Ivy) conquered Cornell (17-21, 11-10 Ivy) by a score of 11-9 in game one and 12-6 in game two. Coming into the tournament as the fourth and last seed, the Quakers showed great resilience on their path to becoming back-to-back Ivy champions.

“I got no words, it’s incredible,” senior third baseman and reigning Ivy League Player of The Year Wyatt Henseler said when describing the emotions of winning another championship. “We got hit with some punches throughout the year and went through a lot to get to where we are today. I don’t have any words, it’s an incredible feeling.”

For nine seniors, it was also a milestone day. The Ivy League final happened to occur on the same day as Penn’s commencement ceremony, making it a momentous day for several Quakers. A day that they will surely never forget, and one that only a championship could make sweeter — and indeed it did.

After dropping a game to Cornell in the winner’s bracket over the weekend, Penn kept their chances at a title alive after beating Princeton by a score of 9-4 the day before. Seeking revenge for their previous tournament loss, Penn squared off against Cornell once more. Coming from the loser's bracket, the Quakers were in a must-win situation to force a game two while Cornell only needed one win to clinch a championship.

Already working with a thin bullpen after the win against Princeton, coach John Yurkow's ability to navigate a potential two games was something to keep an eye on. Every pitcher that Yurkow sent onto the mound was paramount in the Quakers’ hopes of staying alive.

In the first game of the day, the Red and Blue jumped out to an early lead of 6-0 behind a plethora of hits, starting with sophomore center fielder Ryan Taylor's double to left center that put the Quakers up 2-0. Despite a promising start, senior right-handed pitcher Carson Ozmer would give up five runs in the third inning to let Cornell burst back into the game. 

In the sixth inning, Cornell’s Kevin Hager blasted a two-run home run to give the Big Red its first lead of the day at 8-7. After tying it up at 8-8, there was a sense that the tide could turn in favor of either team. Knowing this, Yurkow turned to his trusted ace, senior right-handed pitcher Cole Zaffiro. After starting the game in Penn’s win against Columbia, throwing over 120 pitches, Zaffiro was being asked to pitch in relief on short rest. 

Despite this, Zaffiro delivered a championship-worthy performance for the Quakers when they needed it the most, which helped keep the score tied at 8-8. A crucial move that played out in Penn’s favor, it underscored Penn’s mentality — do anything to win and see another game. In the seventh inning, junior second baseman Connor Chavez broke the game open with a three-run opposite-field home run to right field — only his third home run of the season. With the three-run cushion, the Quakers would hold on to beat Cornell by a final score of 11-9.

“You get into the loser’s bracket, and you have to play so many games in such a short amount of time, and it’s really taxing on the pitching staff,” Yurkow said. “[Carson] Ozmer [was] just gritty, pitching his butt off, same thing with Cole Zaffiro. It was all hands on deck today.”

The second game of the day would mark the first time since the inception of the four-team double-elimination format in 2023 that the Ivy League baseball tournament would see a game seven. Both teams had now used up much of their bullpen, and fatigue started setting in as the game went on to the waning hours of dusk.

Once again, the Quakers started off hot with a Henseler moonshot to left center field in the first inning. The long ball marked Henseler’s 22nd homer of the season, setting an Ivy League single-season home run record. After leading 7-2 through five innings, there was a feeling of excitement surrounding this Penn team, who was in complete control of the game up until that point. However, no matter how promising the lead looked for the Quakers, it was clear that no lead was safe with Cornell. After a four-run flurry in the sixth inning, including a two-run homer by Cornell’s Max Jensen, the Quaker lead had dwindled down to just one.

In what would turn out to be a decisive eighth inning, the Red and Blue got going when Cornell’s Chris Ellison walked several batters to get men on base. A five-run inning by Penn was capped off by a three-run RBI triple by junior catcher Asa Wilson, just missing the outstretched arms of Cornell’s Jakobi Davis. Holding a six-run advantage, the Quakers’ pitching depth proved to be crucial in getting the final outs, winning by a final score of 12-6.

As the players rushed onto the field to celebrate back-to-back Ivy League championships, it was a snapshot of a season that almost did not see its triumphant end. It was a rocky road for the Quakers, who at times did not look like the championship team that they knew they were. But when it mattered the most, the team epitomized the meaning of rising to the occasion.

“The way that we did it this year, we’ve just had so much adversity. So many injuries, [and] it just hasn’t been an easy road,” Yurkow said. “I’m so proud of every one of these guys. You want to talk about a total team effort. I mean, we got contributions from everybody in the team the last three or four days.”

After an incredible series, Penn will now participate in the NCAA Tournament, which starts in two weeks’ time, after clinching an automatic berth. It has been a remarkable season that has already brought home one piece of hardware, but its story is not finished quite yet.