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Baseball Sweeps Penn 4-2, 8-7

By Timothy Jackson, Crimson Staff Writer

The pitching was perfect.

The hitting was clutch.

The comebacks were dramatic.

Sophomore Ben Crockett and junior John Birtwell combined for 14 strikeouts, and juniors Scot Hopps and Joe Llanes came through with timely RBI pinch-hits as the Harvard baseball team swept a pair from Columbia, 4-2 and 8-7 (11 innings).

"The sweep this weekend was huge for us," Crockett said. "We've struggled a little in non-conference play, and missing the sweep in the final game last weekend against Princeton left a sour taste in our mouths."

Crockett (3-0) picked up the win in the opener with a complete game six-hitter, and Birtwell pitched a solid nine innings in the second game, allowing four earned runs and striking out eight in the extra-innings win.

"We expect a lot of our pitching staff," Crockett said. "We knew Penn was a good hitting team and tried to prepare by going over their hitters. They hit some good balls off us today, and we were lucky our bats were able to come through for us."

Sophomore third baseman Nick Carter led the Crimson (12-12, 7-1 Ivy) with five hits and a pair of RBI, while Penn freshman right-hander Benjamin Otero was the brightest light for the Quakers (13-13, 4-4 Ivy), allowing four earned runs and striking out six over eight innings in a losing effort.

Despite the offensive bursts by both squads, the games were decided by pitching.

The Crimson pitchers racked up 15 strikeouts and allowed only two walks, while the Quakers staff struggled with their control, striking out 12 but allowing 13 walks.

"Coach Walsh stresses throwing strikes all the time," Crockett said. "Just let them put the ball in play. When you walk guys, there's no one else who can help you. Penn allowed runners to get on base, allowing us to come up with some big pinch-hits and score some runs."

Harvard 8, Penn 7 (11)

Midway through the seventh inning, a wind gust toppled the bench in the Quakers' bullpen.

The Penn coaching staff didn't heed the warning.

Harvard feasted on the Quaker bullpen, rallying from a 5-4 deficit in the ninth to force extra innings, then scoring three in the eleventh in an 8-7 victory.

"We were pretty confident late in the game that we could come back," Crockett said. "If the pitchers can keep us in the game until the late innings, if it's close, we're confident we can win."

Leading 7-5 with one away and no one aboard in the eleventh, Penn freshman reliever Andrew McCreery was his own worst enemy.

Struggling with his control, McCreery hit sophomore infielder Nick Carter with a pitch and then walked a pair to load the bases.

Laboring to find the strike zone, McCreery fell behind 3-0 to tri-captain Erik Binkowski before walking him to let up a run and cut the lead to 7-6.

With the winning run on second and the bases still loaded, Llanes, pinch-hitting for sophomore second baseman Faiz Shakir, singled up the middle to score a pair and complete the comeback.

"Llanes and Hopps did a great job for us coming off the bench," Crockett said. "We've got a lot of good hitters and when they're not starting, they're ready to play and help the ball club win a game. We expect it from them."

Harvard had its back up against the wall after the Quakers scored a pair in the top of inning.

With one down and Penn freshman second baseman Nicholas Italiano at second, the Crimson intentionally walked junior outfielder James Mullen to put a runner on first and set up the double play.

The gamble didn't work.

Tri-captain Glen Ambrosius singled to left, scoring Italiano from second after a close play at the plate.

Not phased by the call at home, Crimson sophomore catcher Brian Lentz quickly unloaded a throw to first, catching Ambrosius, who had made a wide turn, for the second out.

The intentional walk would come back to haunt the Crimson, however, as Mullen stole third base and scored on an infield single to put the Quakers ahead 7-5.

In the ninth, the Crimson forced extra innings against Penn, when junior John Franey took a 0-2 offering over the wall in right to tie the game 5-5.

With two away and Lentz on third, the Crimson had a chance to win in regulation, but McCreery (3-1), the eventual losing pitcher, would force Harvard to wait, fanning the final Crimson batter.

Carter started the Crimson comeback in the seventh, doubling to the wall in left and scoring Franey from second to cut the lead to one and set up the ninth inning comeback.

Harvard opened the scoring in the first when sophomore shortstop Mark Mager scored from third on a wild pitch.

Carter added another for the Crimson before the inning was out, cranking a line drive down the third base line to score Franey from second and open an early 2-0 lead.

The Quakers replied with runs of their own in the second, fourth, and fifth innings to take their first lead of the game, 3-2.

Franey tied the game at 3-3 with a homerun in the fifth before the Quakers took a 5-3 lead in the top of the seventh with a two-run shot from senior catcher Jeff Gregorio.

Freshman right-hander Ryan Tsujikawa (1-0) picked up his first collegiate win.

Harvard 4, Penn 2

Pitching dominated the opening game of the doubleheader, as both teams' bats remained in a deep freeze from Sunday's freak snowstorm.

Crockett earned the 4-2 win for the Crimson, pitching a complete game six hitter and striking out half a dozen without allowing walk.

"On a cold day, it's always good to throw the fastball inside on the hands," Crockett said. "No one ever likes to hit a fastball inside on a cold day. We worked in and out all day and threw a lot of strikes."

On the other side of the ball, Penn sophomore left-hander Mark Lacerenza was equally impressive in the early going, retiring the first 11 batters he faced before being chased from the game in the fifth inning.

"It was a little discouraging in the early going," Crockett said. "But we were getting some good swings and confident we could get to him at some point. I was getting a little nervous, but I knew eventually we put in a couple hits and take advantage of some walks to score a couple runs."

Hitless and trailing 2-0, the Crimson bats finally came alive in the bottom of the fifth with four runs on four hits.

Tiring quickly, Lacerenza walked a pair and Carter singled to load the bases with none out.

Pinch-hitting for sophomore second baseman Faiz Shakir, Junior Scot Hopps took Lacerenza's 2-2 delivery to the gap in right, clearing the bases and cashing in three runs with a standup double.

Two batters later, Mager made it 4-2 with another RBI double to the gap in right as the Crimson got all the offense it would need behind the pitching of Crockett.

NOTES: Junior John Franey was hit by his own foul ball in the tenth inning and forced to leave the game...Harvard has now defeated the Quakers nine straight times... Penn tri-captain Kevin McCabe was ejected at the end of the first game of the doubleheader for arguing with the umpire.

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