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Baseball defeats Columbia in Ivy tournament before falling against Penn

A group of men huddling around on one knee on a baseball field.
The Tigers fought hard but were eventually eliminated by the Penn Quakers in their third game of the tournament.
Courtesy of @PUTigerBaseball / X

Returning to the Ivy League Tournament for the second time in as many years, the Princeton baseball team (18–26, 12–9 Ivy) sought to avenge last year’s finals loss to the University of Pennsylvania Quakers (24–23, 11–10) and secure a berth to the regional NCAA baseball tournament. Hosted by Columbia University, the Tigers crossed the Hudson River to fight for a title and a ticket with their season on the line. The second-seeded Tigers, who finished the year four games behind the conference-leading Columbia Lions (26–18, 17–4 Ivy), were challenged by a rotation depleted by injuries amid a busy schedule that would see them play in three or more games in just three days. The Tigers fought hard and won a crucial game against Columbia, but fell in the double-elimination tournament to the eventual champions, Penn.


The Ivy League Tournament, similar to the NCAA regional tournament, uses a double-elimination format to determine its champion. In this format, each team must lose twice before it is eliminated, rather than the single-elimination format used in NCAA basketball tournaments or the best-of-three, -five, or -seven format used by most professional leagues. If Princeton fell in its first game against the Cornell Big Red (17–21, 11–10) on Friday, they would get another chance to play the loser of Columbia and Penn for the chance to remain in the tournament. Lose that game, and they would head home early.

Tigers claw back from behind but fall to Cornell

In the opening game of the tournament, the Tigers coaching staff gave the ball to freshman starter Sean Episcope in hopes of a strong opener. Plagued by injuries for much of April, Episcope had put together a strong stretch of starts throughout the middle of the season after a rough beginning to his Princeton career. In a March outing against Cornell, Episcope tossed a quality start, pitching six innings and allowing just three runs.

Taking the mound in the top of the first inning, Episcope was greeted by an offensive onslaught from the Big Red. After allowing a walk and a single, Episcope surrendered a long three-run home run to Ivy League Rookie of the Year Mark Quatrani.

In the bottom of the second, Princeton’s all-time home run leader senior Kyle Vinci smashed a double to deep center field, plating two and bringing the score back to 3–2. The Tigers loaded the bases with one out, but senior center fielder Matt Scannell grounded into a double play to limit the scoring and leave key runners on base. The Tigers paid for this soon after, as Episcope hit the showers early after allowing four more earned runs in the top of the fourth to bring the score to 7–2. Episcope was removed for junior pitcher Andrew D’Alessio, who took the Tigers the rest of the way.

The Tigers’ lineup chipped away at the five-run deficit, with Scannell launching a three-run blast to cut Cornell’s lead to 7–5 in the bottom of the sixth, a Vinci homer to cut it to 7–6 an inning later, and a double that plated junior outfielder Jordan Kelly to tie the game and close out the eighth.


Tigers entered the ninth inning with a chance to win the game and push Cornell into the losers’ side of the bracket. Manager Scott Bradley sent D’Alessio back to the mound in hopes of preserving the tie, but the Big Red quickly loaded the bases on a single and a pair of walks. With the corners in and middle infield back at double-play depth, Cornell’s Caden Wildman poked a ground-ball single between third base and shortstop, scoring two and bringing the score to 9–7. The Tigers went down quietly in the bottom of the frame, losing the opening game of the tournament. 

Offensive explosion helps Tigers tame Lions

In a shock result, the Tigers defeated powerhouse Columbia in the second game of the tournament. The Lions were overwhelming favorites to win the tournament with their 17–4 record across the season and home field advantage. The hosts, however, fell to Penn 8–4 in their opening game. As such, they found themselves in the same position as the Tigers: win and survive, or lose and go home.

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Facing Columbia starter Joe Sheets, who shut down the Tigers earlier this month, Princeton’s offense wasted no time getting right to business. Five of their first seven batters reached base in the top of the first inning, with doubles by senior shortstop Nick DiPietrantonio and sophomore second baseman Jake Koonin bringing the Tigers out to an early 3–0 lead against Sheets and the Lions. 

Columbia answered in the bottom of the second, bringing the game to 3–2 with a trio of singles off junior Jacob Faulkner. Just one inning later, a two-out error prolonged the inning and allowed the Lions to plate three more runs against Faulkner and the Tigers. A bases-loaded double by Columbia’s Cole Fellows did the damage, putting the Tigers behind for the first time all game.

In the top of the fourth, Princeton’s potent offense responded to put the game out of reach for the Lions. An RBI double by freshman designated hitter Jake Kernodle followed by an RBI single from freshman infielder Tommy Googins tied the game at five apiece as the Tigers continued their march. When all was said and done, all nine starters came to bat, with four scoring to give the Tigers a 7–5 lead that they would not relinquish.

“Our players played really well, we got offensive production from the entire lineup,” head coach Bradley told The Daily Princetonian postgame.

The rest of the game saw Faulkner dominate as the Tigers continued to pad their lead. Home runs by Kernodle and junior outfielder Caden Shapiro in the fifth tacked on five more runs, and a parade of walks, errors, and wild pitches from Columbia brought the score to 16–5 in the top of the ninth. At the end of the day, the Tigers had scored 16 runs on the clear tournament favorite and sent them home in their own stadium.

“Managing our pitching staff and all of the injuries was very challenging, but we figured out how to get Jacob Faulkner on the mound when it mattered most,” head coach Bradley told the ‘Prince.’ The Ivy League named Faulkner to the All-Tournament Team on the strength of just this appearance alone.

The Lions hadn’t lost a game this badly since out-of-conference play, with their worst performance in conference play coming when it mattered most for them. Conversely, the Tigers hadn’t scored this many runs since a 17-run outburst against Brown earlier in the season. In the biggest moment of the season so far, the Tigers’ stars shone brightest as they outhit, outpitched, and outplayed a supposedly superior opponent. Heading into the third game of the tournament, the Tigers had plenty to hold their heads high about as they confronted Penn for the second straight year.

Tigers’ season ends with late-game collapse against Penn

In an interesting turn of events, Princeton’s game against the Penn Quakers, who had just lost to Cornell, was played in an entirely different state than their first two games. After a malfunction in which the turf landing spot on the pitcher’s mound ripped and was deemed unsafe, the remainder of the Ivy League Tournament was moved away from Columbia’s Robertson Field to the Yogi Berra Stadium in Montclair, N.J. 

In yet another sign of the Tigers’ depleted pitching depth, the coaches sent freshman Jackson Baldrate to the mound against the Quakers. Though Baldrate had performed well as a reliever throughout his first college season, he had never pitched more than 3 1/3 innings in one outing. On Sunday, he was asked to do far more and displayed an admirable show of pitching excellence.

Baldrate’s outing got off to a rough start, as the Quakers scattered two singles and a walk to bring the score to 2–0 in the bottom of the first inning. Baldrate settled down quickly, finishing the inning and pitching a scoreless second to keep the Tigers within striking distance. After Scannell was hit by a pitch in the top of the third inning, Shapiro smashed a two-run homer to tie the game at two apiece. Penn starter Will Tobin was removed from the game immediately after, giving the Tigers the edge on the mound as Baldrate continued to shove.

“Jackson Baldrate pitched a gem,” assistant coach Joe Haumacher told the ‘Prince.’ “He overcame some defensive miscues and threw five great innings against an intimidating lineup. What’s not to love?”

After two more scoreless frames, Baldrate finally cracked in the bottom of the fifth inning as a walk and a single were enough to plate the go-ahead run for Penn. Despite limiting the Quakers to three runs across five strong innings, the freshman reliever-turned-starter departed the game in line for the loss. Luckily for him, that would soon change.

In the top of the sixth inning, a single by Googins set the table for Scannell to do some damage yet again. For the second time in three games, the center fielder stepped up in a huge situation and went yard, giving the Tigers the lead once again. His bat had been crucial to the team’s offense throughout the season, and his dominance continued through the most important stretch of the year. Junior pitcher Max Zdimal entered the game with a lead and worked around a walk and hit batsman to set down the Quakers in the bottom of the sixth inning.

Zdimal did not hold the lead for long. In the bottom of the seventh inning, Penn’s Nick Spaventa tattooed a two-run homer to erase Scannell’s own home run and bring the score to 5–4 Penn. Spaventa, one of the Ivy League’s best rookies, beat the Tigers throughout the game in a three-hit, four-RBI performance in which he drove in as many runs as the entire Tigers offense. 

After Zdimal came Scannell and Shapiro, who surrendered three more runs and brought the score to 9–4 in the bottom of the eighth inning. The pair of outfielders, forced into pitching in emergency situations due to the Tigers’ lack of depth, have been called on sparingly throughout the season to limit damage in blowouts or unimportant games. Calling on them in such a crucial situation spoke to just how depleted the Tigers’ pitching staff is. Unfortunately, their efforts failed to change the trajectory of the game, as the Tigers could not muster another run and with their season coming to a close with a 9–4 loss in Montclair. 

Season Recap

After a season filled with injuries in which the Tigers still managed to finish second in a competitive Ivy League, the coaching staff sung their praises for their resilient team.

“With so much craziness of our season, our pitchers learned a very simple game plan which allowed us to use a plug-and-play system,” assistant coach Haumacher told the ‘Prince.’ “We had seven guys start [regular-season] conference games for us, which is unheard of. They understood a very simple game plan and they executed it very well.”

“This really was a great year for us,” head coach Bradley told the ‘Prince.’ “Seniors displayed incredible leadership and played hard every inning of every game.”

Senior Matt Scannell was named to the All-Tournament Team along with Faulkner and fellow senior Nick DiPietrantonio was named to the All-Ivy League Team for the regular season. Replacing them will be difficult, but the Tigers can take solace in the fact that they will not lose much pitching with this year’s graduating class.

“We just did not have enough pitching depth to win a double elimination format,” Bradley said.

Starters Justin Kim and Will Sword, who were key to much of the Tigers’ success in the first half of the season, were just two of the notable names to go down with injuries over the course of the year. In the absence of them and others, Princeton was put in a position where they had position players pitching in an elimination game. Bradley and Haumacher hope that will not be the case next year. 

“The staff was young this year and took its lumps understanding the responsibility in preparing themselves for a grueling season,” Haumacher told the ‘Prince.’ “They are a smart, competitive group who I believe will adapt and find their improved diligence as a reason they reach new heights in the coming seasons.”

Joseph Uglialoro is a staff Sports writer for the ‘Prince.’

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