PHILADELPHIA – For the second time in the space of two weeks, the Penn baseball team (16-8) will be hosting Villanova (6-19) at Meiklejohn Stadium. This time, there’s a little more at stake than just a win over a Big 5 rival. With the teams set to square off in the Liberty Bell Classic semifinals on Tuesday at 3 p.m., the winner will find themselves with a date at Citizens Bank Park – the home of the Philadelphia Phillies – in two weeks’ time.
Last Time Out
Ivy League play began this weekend with Penn making a big impression on the rest of the Ancient Eight. On Saturday, a combination of timely hitting and strong pitching from Connor Cuff and Jeff McGarry led the Quakers past five-time defending Rolfe Division champions Dartmouth twice by identical scores of 3-2. Penn followed that up with a 4-1 win over Harvard on Sunday in the opener of a scheduled doubleheader. Rain hit in the late innings of the second contest, soaking the field and forcing a postponement of the contest until Monday. With the game tied at 3-3 in the ninth inning, the Crimson were able to scrap together three runs and escape with a 6-3 victory.
The First Meeting
Joey Greco was the man of the hour the first time these two teams met on March 20, crushing two home runs – including a go-ahead grand slam – to boost Penn to a 12-5 victory. The game was much closer than the final would indicate, as Villanova led on two separate occasions. The Wildcats put runs on the board in the second and third innings, and led 2-0 before Greco tied the game with his first homer of the afternoon. Later, Villanova was up 5-3 until a five-run sixth inning from the Quakers, highlighted by Greco’s bases-clearing blast. Penn tacked on two runs in both the seventh and eighth innings against a rattled Wildcat bullpen. Stephen Silvestri took the win on the mound for Penn, the first of his career. Matt Meurer was tagged with the loss, dropping to 1-5 – a record that he carries into Tuesday’s game.
Liberty Bell Classic
A part of the Philadelphia baseball landscape for more than 20 years, the Liberty Bell Classic pits eight local Division I schools against each other for the chance to play for the title of Philadelphia’s best at Citizens Bank Park. In quarterfinal last week, Penn downed Lafayette, 8-1, Villanova advanced past La Salle, 5-3, Temple defeated Lehigh, 9-3, and Delaware assured that a new champion would be crowned as they crushed Saint Joseph’s, 17-3.
In Tuesday’s other semifinal, Delaware (18-8) plays host to Temple (10-13) at Bob Hannah Stadium. That game is also set for a 3 p.m. start. The Blue Hens have won eight games in a row and lead the eight participants in the Liberty Bell Classic with seven titles since 1992, most recently in 2010. The Owls come in after dropping two of three to George Washington over the weekend and will be trying to win their fourth title this season. Temple’s last team title came in 2003.
Since defeating La Salle in last week’s Liberty Bell Classic quarter, Villanova was swept by Rutgers to drop to 6-19 on the season. Tyler Sciacca and his .303 average leads the Wildcats, as does his .470 slugging pct. Paul Rambaud and Steve Schrenk are each hitting .261 with three doubles, while Rambaud leads the team with eight stolen bases in 11 attempts.
On the mound, either Meurer or Kevin MacLachlan are the likely candidates to get the start for Villanova. MacLachlan is 1-1 with a 9.53 ERA, while Meurer took the loss against the Quakers two weeks ago and is 1-5 with a 7.43 ERA. Chris Haggarty leads the team with 13 appearances out of the bullpen, and is 1-0 with an ERA of 2.79 that ranks him second on the squad.