PHILADELPHIA - Any concerns about the Penn baseball team being nervous about playing at Citizens Bank Park in the championship game of the Liberty Bell Classic were put to bed on the first pitch of the night, as Brandon Engelhardt singled sharply back up the middle.The Quakers had no trouble generating chances against St. Joseph's on Tuesday night, and the Hawks were more than helpful in their own right with five HBP's and three walks, but timely hitting eluded the Red and Blue and St. Joseph's took home its first-ever Liberty Bell Classic title, 6-3.
Win or lose, it was a historic evening for the program as they advanced to the championship game of the Liberty Bell Classic for the first time in the event's 21-year existence, but had the Quakers taken advantage of some early opportunities, the story of this game could have been much different. After Engelhardt's opening base hit, St. Joseph's starter Daniel Thorpe was able to retire the red-hot pair of Greg Zebrack and Ryan Deitrich, seemingly working himself out of the jam. But after Engelhardt stole second, Thorpe issued a walk to Spencer Branigan and Austin Bossart beat out an infield single to load the bases for Derek Vigoa. With nowhere left to put Vigoa, Thorpe was able to escape with an inning-ending strikeout; the first of three times that Penn would leave the bases juiced.
Using almost all the arms he had at his disposal, head coach John Cole turned first to Cody Thomson and then Chris McNulty to get through the first two innings. Each allowed baserunners but were bailed out by great defensive plays. Bossart continued his fine work behind home plate in the first inning when he threw down to second base to catch a base runner, and Vigoa and Kyle Toomey teamed up for a 6-4-3 double play to end the side with a runner stranded at third.
Penn's trouble started in the third inning. With zeroes still on the scoreboard for each team, SJU's Greg Kumpel blasted a two-out, two-run home run into the left field stands to break the deadlock and spot the Hawks a 2-0 lead.
The Red and Blue were quick to answer. Bossart and Vigoa notched back-to-back singles in the top of the fourth and moved into scoring position at second and third after a risky double steal. Thorpe recorded the second out of the inning by striking out James Mraz before walking Mitch Montaldo to again load the bases, this time for Toomey batting in the nine-hole. Toomey assured that Penn wouldn't leave this inning empty-handed, chopping a hard grounder at the third baseman who couldn't make a clean play. Though it was ruled an error, Toomey cut the St. Joseph's lead in half at 2-1.
Unfortunately, that would be as close as Penn would get. Anthony Cirillo connected on a two-RBI triple in the bottom of the fourth and would later come in on a wild pitch as the Hawks opened up a 5-1 advantage.
Penn again left the bases loaded in the fifth inning but had one last gasp left in the sixth. Montaldo was hit by an offering from SJU reliever Jimmy Yacabonis and Toomey doubled off the wall in left to set the Quakers up for a potential turning point in the contest. Lead-off man Engelhardt followed that up with a slow roller to second that moved both runners up, scoring Montaldo to make it 5-2. Though new reliever Steven Schuler was able to retire Zebrack with no advance from Toomey at third, he then hit Deitrich to put runners on the corners. With the clean-up hitter Branigan at the plate, Schuler opted to throw over to first and ended up putting Deitrich into a rundown. As the middle infielders converged on Penn's right fielder, the speedy Toomey smartly bolted for home. Though Deitrich would eventually be tagged for the third out of the inning, the Hawk defenders were oblivious as Toomey crossed home plate to score Penn's third run of the night.
St. Joseph's scored one last time in the bottom of the sixth as Stephen Silvestri was the unlucky benefactor of Penn's lone error. A high fly ball into shallow right played directly into the stadium lights and Toomey couldn't track the ball, landing Brian O'Keefe at second. After advancing to third on a passed ball, he came in on a tapper back to the mound that Silvestri couldn't get out of his glove in time, giving Cirillo his third RBI in the game.
Thorpe improved to 2-1 with the win while Brennan's first decision of the season leaves him at 0-1. Ronnie Glenn and Dan Gautieri worked a scoreless eighth and ninth for the Quakers out of the pen.
Penn (15-17, 6-6 Ivy) returns to Ivy League play for the rest of the regular season beginning Saturday at 12 p.m. when the Red and Blue host a doubleheader against the Cornell Big Red at Meiklejohn Stadium. Cornell currently leads the Gehrig Division at 10-2.