Penn 9, La Salle 4
PHILADELPHIA - Playing for the fifth time in three days, the Penn baseball team was running low on available arms and was in dire need of a strong outing from its starter if it was to have a chance to hang with La Salle in the Liberty Bell Classic semifinals.
Enter Matt Gotschall.
The sophomore lefty scattered five hits over 5.1 innings in his first appearance in 10 days, limiting the La Salle offense to two runs and setting the stage for the Quaker bats to produce, which they did to the tune of 13 hits and nine runs as Penn pulled away for an impressive 9-4 victory on Tuesday afternoon at La Salle's Hank DeVincent Field. Ryan Deitrich and Rick Brebner each homered for the Red and Blue, while Greg Zebrack continued to harass opposing pitchers, going 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles.
After a deadlocked first inning, Penn sprung into action in the top of the second. After seeing his first trip to the plate end prematurely after a base runner was caught stealing to end the first, Deitrich opened with a double to the left field wall. After Spencer Branigan walked to put two on, Austin Bossart laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt up the third base line to move both runners up. The next four hitters in the batting order -Brebner, Derek Vigoa, Mitch Montaldo and Brandon Engelhardt - would each single or hit into a fielder's choice, scoring a run in each turn at the plate for a 4-0 lead.
La Salle threatened in the bottom of the second but the defense had Gotschall's back. With one out and runners on the corners, La Salle's Jon Gyles chopped a ball directly at Branigan, who was shaded towards first in case of a pick-off attempt. Branigan snared the ball and quickly stepped on first for the out, then fired on to Vigoa covering second who applied the tag to the trail runner to end the inning with no damage done.
La Salle went to its bullpen in the third inning and the two teams both went down quietly in the third and fourth innings. The Explorers made a push to get back into the ballgame in the fifth. Kevin Conroy started the inning with a knock to center field but Gotschall sent the next two batters back to the dugout with routine fly balls. Facing the #9 hitter in La Salle's line-up, the Quaker starter got a little unlucky when right-handed hitter George Smith Jr. sliced a ball high into the air to right field and the strong winds carried it over the fence for a two-run home run, cutting Penn's lead to 4-2.
That was as close as La Salle would get though. Brebner followed Smith's blast with one of his own in the top of the sixth, making it 5-2, and the decisive blow came in the seventh. The Explorers were on track for a routine inning, retiring Engelhardt and Mraz to put the first two away, but Zebrack struck for his second double of the afternoon off the wall in left field and Deitrich followed that up with a moon shot over the high wall in left field to stake the Quakers to a 7-2 advantage.
John Beasley came on in relief of Gotschall with one out in the sixth inning and continued to deny the Explorers any chance of a comeback, working through the eighth inning and allowing just three hits in that span.
Penn's final nail in the coffin came in the top of the ninth. After Engelhardt reached on a hard grounder past the shortstop, Zebrack kept the inning alive with a two-out single and then stole second without a throw for his 10th stolen base of the season. With two in scoring position, Deitrich reached out and poked a ball into the outfield and hustled around for a bloop double, making it 9-2, Penn. La Salle put two on the board in the bottom of the ninth for the final margin.
The Quakers will now meet St. Joseph's, a 3-2 winner over Delaware, on April 17th at Citizens Bank Park in the Liberty Bell Classic Final. This game will be Penn's first-ever appearance at the new home of the Philadelphia Phillies. Continue to monitor PennAthletics.com for information and events surrounding the team's "Chase" to be the best in Philadelphia.