Winter Haven, Fla. - For more than half of Thursday afternoon's game with Western Michigan, the Penn baseball team was poised and in control, seemingly on the verge of winning its third straight contest at the Russ Matt Tournament and in line to move to .500 for the first time this season after a 0-3 start. But with a nine-run outburst in the 6th and 7th innings, the Broncos struck back from a 4-1 deficit to take an insurmountable lead on their way to an 11-4 win. Freshman Connor Cuff (0-1) was solid for most of his second career start before the Western Michigan comeback handed him theloss.
The early innings flew by and it was Cuff, not senior Western Michigan starter Casey Webber, who seemed to have the opposition's number in the beginning. The Broncos managed just one hit in the first three innings while Cuff struck out four Bronco hitters in a row at one point. In Penn's half of the third inning, a bunt single by catcher Austin Bossart and a ball that glanced off the arm of Matt McKinnon gave Penn a chance for an early lead. Both runners advanced to second and third with two out, but when Kyle Toomey hit a roller towards second base, Webber and the Broncos appeared to have avoided any damage. That was until WMU second baseman Zach Thoma threw high and wide to the bag at first, the ball bouncing into the first base dugout and giving Penn a 2-0 lead. One batter later, Greg Zebrack compounded the pain by smashing a home run - Penn's first of the 2012 season - into left field, making it a 4-0 Quaker advantage.
Penn continued to cruise through the fourth, but the cracks began to show as Western got on the board in the fifth inning on the first Penn error of the game. Jared Kujawa began the inning with a double and there were runners on the corners with two away when Bossart threw into the outfield attempting to stop the trail runner from taking second.
Western lead-off man Vinnie Booker opened the sixth inning with another double, this one hopping directly off the third-base bag and down into the left field corner. The hits kept coming for the Broncos as three more tied the game at 4-4 with a man on, forcing John Cole to his bullpen. Stephen Silvestri faced one batter and recorded the out on a sacrifice bunt, but WMU would take the lead for good when Nick Bradley later singled into right, making it 5-4.
A third straight lead-off double for Western Michigan set up another big inning in the seventh. The Quaker relievers combined to walk two, give up four hits and hit a batter in the frame as the Broncos extended to a 10-4 lead. As the Penn pitching staff was trying to find itself, Webber settled into a groove and mowed down the Quakers the rest of the way. Once given a lead, Webber gave up just three more hits and only allowed one runner to reach scoring position. For the game, the lefty gave up a total of seven hits and four runs (none of them earned) in picking up his second win of the season.
Penn (2-4) will now get some rest, not playing again until 6 p.m. on Saturday night against Fairfield. The Stags carry a four-game losing streak and an overall record of 4-6 into the contest.
Download: Penn-WMU Box.pdf