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Princeton and Penn go back and forth on weekend

With Princeton coming in last place in the Gehrig Division of the Ivy League, it looked like there was a legitimate chance of Penn sweeping this weekend’s four-game set. Instead, the Tigers (12-22 overall, 7-9 Ivy League) did about as well as could have been expected, splitting the weekend with the Quakers (22-14, 13-3).

Saturday’s first game was a pitcher’s duel all the way, with both freshman starter Chad Powers and Penn’s Connor Cuff throwing complete-game four-hitters. Powers kept the Quakers to one unearned run through six innings before letting up a solo homer in the final frame, but Cuff’s performance made even that insurance run unnecessary.

Throwing with velocity and great control, Cuff struck out seven without surrendering a walk. The Tigers looked like they had found a chink in Cuff’s armor when junior catcher Tyler Servais doubled on a hard-hit ball that bounced off of Penn third baseman Mitch Montaldo, but when junior pinch runner Peter Owens was caught between third and home on a ground ball Princeton lost its best opportunity to score.

Princeton got another solid start from a freshman in the next game, as rookie hurler Keelan Smithers gave up three runs — two earned — over eight innings. All of those runs came in a shaky first, which started with Smithers hitting the leadoff man and included a run scored on a throwing error.

As Smithers went the next seven innings without giving up a run, the Tigers gave their starter solid support. After manufacturing a run in the fourth, freshman second baseman Danny Baer singled in the sixth and senior center fielder Alec Keller gave Jake Cousins’ offering a ride to right center field on an RBI triple. The Tigers scored twice more in the inning to tie it up.

A two-out walk in the eighth led to more runs for Princeton, as Owens doubled in a run and freshman third baseman Chad Powers plated two more runs with another line drive double. Senior closer Jonathan York gave the Quakers one run back but still shut the door, earning his fifth save as the Tigers won 6-4.

Keller kept the pressure on Penn on Sunday, knocking in two runs with a double down the right field line after sophomore shortstop Danny Hoy singled in a run in the third. Three innings later, Keller struck again, giving Princeton its fourth and final run of the game with a solo home run.

Senior lefty Michael Fagan was dominant again in his Sunday start, going six and a third innings and fanning 11 Quakers while letting up just two runs, only one earned. York faced four batters but let up no runs in relief, earning his second save in as many games.

The pitching looked like it was going to hold strong in the finale, as junior pitcher Nick Donatiello went six innings without giving up a run. He lost control, however, in the sixth, when two walks resulted in a meeting on the mound. Head coach Scott Bradley visited the mound but left Donatiello in for the next batter, Mike Vilardo, who doubled in three runs to break the 0-0 tie. Sophomore pitcher Chris Bodurian and sophomore Luke Streiber worked the remainder of the game, letting up three more runs.

The Tigers managed just one run, which freshman third baseman Zack Belski drove in in the seventh, on eight hits.

Though this weekend gave Penn two more league losses than it had had all season, that may come as little comfort to the Tigers, who are now mathematically eliminated from Gehrig pennant contention. Penn and Columbia each sit at 13-3 in the league and will face each other in four games next weekend to determine the division winner. Princeton, meanwhile, will wrap up its Ivy season with four games against Cornell next weekend in an effort to salvage a winning league record.

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