After a four-game series failed to determine a division champion, the baseball team will take on Penn for the fifth time this Saturday with a chance to play in the Ivy League Championship Series on the line.
The winner will play the Red Rolfe Division champion, which will be decided in a one-game playoff on Sunday between Yale and Dartmouth.
By most statistical metrics, the Lions (24-17, 15-5 Ivy) and Quakers (24-26, 15-5 Ivy) are the two best teams in the Ancient Eight. Both squads rank in the top three in both ERA and batting average. Penn has an edge in the power department and leads the Ivies with 32 home runs on the year—12 more than Cornell, which boasts the second-highest total. Columbia has dominated on the mound and leads the league with 295 strikeouts on the season.
“I think it's going to be two pretty evenly matched teams going toe-to-toe,” Lions head coach Brett Boretti said. “The better team's going to end up in the championship.”
Senior lefty David Speer will get the start for the Light Blue in its biggest game of the season.
He is coming off a complete-game shutout against the Quakers last Friday and has been one of the league's best pitchers this season. His 2.29 ERA is the league's third-lowest mark, and he has only walked three hitters in 63 innings this season.
“David's done it time and time again,” Boretti said. “I know he'll be prepared to throw his best and give his best effort.”
Penn will start a bona fide ace of its own in righty Connor Cuff, whose 1.34 ERA is the league's best. But the Lions scored six runs against Cuff last Friday, notching 10 hits en route to a convincing win in last weekend's series opener.
According to Boretti, the Light Blue is not taking its success against the junior for granted.
“He pitched against us one game, and we were able to get some offense going,” Boretti said. “I think he's a very good pitcher, he's a good competitor, he's smart—so you know, that was one day.”
The Quakers lineup will bring its own set of challenges. First baseman Jeff McGarry boasts a team-high .404 on-base percentage and right fielder Rick Brebner has eight home runs, the second-highest total in the conference.
“They have a good lineup, up and down,” Boretti said. “That's their strength and why they're at where they're at. It's a tough lineup to pitch to.”
Columbia's offense has been sparked by first-year second baseman Will Savage, whose .352 batting average is the league's best mark. Savage has had a phenomenal rookie campaign, becoming the first-ever Columbia player to garner Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors three times.
Light Blue right fielder Gus Craig, the reigning Ivy League Player of the Week, also gave the Lions an offensive boost last weekend. He knocked in six runs in the four games against Penn, including three in the final game of the series, which was a must-win for Columbia.
First pitch is set for 1 p.m. in Philadelphia on Saturday.
Mel Chafart contributed reporting.
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