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Princeton facing mathematical elimination this weekend against Penn

temp_5391Sometimes, crunch time comes early in the season. That’s certainly the case for the baseball team.

After last weekend’s two-day, four-game series with Columbia started with a one-run loss and only got worse, the Tigers (10-20 overall, 5-7 Ivy League) have little room for error. Currently last in the Gehrig Division, the tougher of the league’s two divisions, Princeton already needs help to have any shot at making the Ivy Championship Series. Penn, 11-1 in the league, is already close to wrapping up the divisional title, and Columbia is just two games back.

If there is any good news for the Tigers in all of that, it’s that they could still, in theory, take the Quakers down this weekend. Princeton will host Penn for four games Saturday and Sunday, and a series win could potentially dethrone Penn while keeping Princeton alive.

Not that it will be easy. The Quakers, 20-12 overall, have the highest collective batting average in the Ivy League and the most home runs. Outfielder Rick Brebner is a large part of both of those numbers, batting .309 and leading the league with seven home runs. Pitcher and infielder Jeff McGarry has been even harder to strike out this season, as he is second in the Ivy League with a .354 average.

It may be of some consolation to the Tigers that the current batting leader is their own senior utility man, Alec Keller, currently batting .364 with 14 RBI. However, sophomore infielder Danny Hoy is the only other Tiger above .300 this season.

The bats will need to pick up if Princeton is to compete with Penn. The Quakers put up 24 runs in four games when they hosted Cornell last weekend, following up with a 16-1 demolition of the University of the Sciences on Wednesday.

The Tigers, meanwhile, split a doubleheader with Harvard on Wednesday. After dropping the first game 4-3 due to an error in extra innings, they rallied for five runs in the eighth inning of the second game to split the series.

Big innings like that one, in which sophomore infielder Billy Arendt had two hits, will be hard to come by against the Quakers. Penn has two aces in starter Connor Cuff — who sports a 1.33 ERA and four complete game wins — and Jake Cousins — who has four wins in four starts and a ground-level 1.09 ERA. With a team ERA of just 3.70, the Quakers will be tough to score on. However, they are not immune; they recently gave up six runs over the final three innings in a loss to Cornell.

Princeton’s pitchers will need to bring their best game this weekend. Senior lefty Michael Fagan has consistently baffled hitters and has an opposing batting average of just .221 to show for it, but the rest of the rotation is more of a concern to head coach Scott Bradley. Sophomores Luke Streiber and Cam Mingo and freshman Keelan Smithers all have ERAs above 4.00. Freshman Chad Powers and sophomore Chris Bodurian have been improving as of late despite less-than-stellar ERAs, but they may well face the toughest test of their collegiate careers this weekend.

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