By SEAMUS POWERS | Contributor
May 3, 2014, 8:00 p.m.
All good things come to an end, but Penn baseball’s season, which was cut short on Saturday by Columbia, wrapped up a little earlier than the Quakers had hoped it would.
After consistently finding ways to win in Ivy League play, very little went well for the Quakers in their one game Gehrig Division playoff against Columbia, which the Lion’s took 4-0 at Meiklejohn Stadium.
In a matchup which featured the Ivy League’s top two offenses and pitted veteran aces Connor Cuff (5-3) and David Speer (6-2) against one another, it was Speer of Columbia who proved to be the dominant force, leading the Lions back to the Ivy League Championship Series.
The senior lefty made use of his arsenal of pitches to shut out Penn’s offense in his third straight complete game performance. Speer set the tone early on, locating all of his pitches with remarkable precision and tallying five of his nine strikeouts in the first three innings. Speer also received considerable help from his outfield, who made a handful of highlight-reel plays to keep Penn off the board.
On the other side, junior righty Connor Cuff had a respectable outing, but it wasn’t the big game performance the Quakers needed to topple the Lions. Cuff, who had been the most reliable arm on the Penn staff this season, lacked his usual command and struggled to find a rhythm. The righty either walked or hit a batter in five of the six innings he appeared in, which spells trouble if you are facing Columbia. [Depressing stat if you are a Penn fan: The Quakers’ pitchers hit as many batters (5) as their offense had hits (5).]
Still, Cuff did find ways to limit the Lions’ damage early on. Despite always seeming to put the first runner on, Cuff held the Lions to two runs in the first five innings. Not bad against a team that averages five runs in conference play.
But unfortunately for Penn, Cuff was not able to correct his earlier mistakes – something that is always dangerous in low-margin-for-error contests. After retiring the first batter in the fifth, Cuff plunked his fourth batter of the day – this time catcher Mike Fischer. At that point it became apparent that Cuff was slightly off his game, and Lions clearly smelled blood.
The next batter was first baseman Nick Maguire, who had homered earlier in the contest. The sophomore picked up right where he left off, doubling to right center to give the Lions two runners in scoring position. Next, instead of bearing down and getting tough outs, Cuff did something you wouldn’t expect a veteran to do: balk. The miscue allowed Mike Fischer to trot home from third, and not too long after, center fielder Jordan Serena singled to score Maguire and make the Columbia lead 4-0, which would hold as the final.
Cuff was pulled with two outs in the fifth in favor of fellow junior Ronnie Glenn, who finished the game without giving up a run.
The goal moving forward for Cuff, who will be a senior next year, is clear: command the big game.
Such is the next big step for Penn’s ace, who has proven he can lead a staff and who has made considerable strides in each of his three years as a Quaker. And such is the step which may lift Penn baseball to an Ivy League title next season.
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