The Ivy League baseball teams are about as even as can be. No one school has yet proven that it will rise above the rest of the pack, making for a pair of very appealing races i n the Gehrig Rolfe Divisions. With the departure of possibly the two best pitchers in the league from last season, last year’s division titleists — Dartmouth and Princeton — will be easier to bring down. How do the teams stack up? The preseason pick to win the Ivy crown is defending champion Princeton — but the Tigers have a tough road ahead of them, and this is as far from a sure thing as it can get. Here is this season’s team-by-team breakdown, with a few comments from Cornell head coach Tom Ford.
Last year’s Ivy champ led the Gehrig division with a 13-7 record, but will have to cope with the early departure of ace Chris Young, who signed a pro contract for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Senior Max Krance does return, however, sporting the league’s best batting average last year (.389). The Tigers also feature last season’s saves leader, sophomore David Boehle. Although there are no superstars like Young on this year’s squad, Princeton is still loaded with talent and has an excellent chance to take the division again.
Ford says: “They’ve been pretty much unbeatable, but now, obviously, [Young] is gone.”
The Red went 11-9 last season in league play to finish two games behind league champ Princeton. Ford’s troops are led at the plate by junior outfielder Erik Rico and on the mound by junior Brendan McQuaid. After winning six of its last eight Ivy games to finish the 2000 campaign, Cornell will look to continue that momentum right into this season.
Ford says: “There’s not much separating us [from Princeton, Dartmouth, and Brown].”
The Quakers’ 9-11 Ivy record (third place in the division) last season can be easily improved upon this season if the pitching staff gels like it is supposed to. Ten pitchers return from last year’s squad, but there is no definitive closer. Jeff Gregorio rounds out the battery and should also lead the offense. The loss of shortstop Glen Ambrosius should be counteracted by the return of the rest of the infield. Sophomore Andrew McCreery will split time between pitching and the outfield, and should provide help in both spots.
The Lions pulled up the rear of the division last season with a 6-14 mark, and in order to climb out of the cellar they will have to improve on a horrid defensive showing. Columbia was last in the league in both team ERA (8.80) and fielding percentage (.934). Junior Adam Schwartz will have to pick up the slack for the pitching staff. Senior first baseman Peter Aswad will lead the offense after leading the Ivies in RBI (51) and tying for the league lead in home runs with 10 last season.
Last season’s Big Green squad had, at 17-3, easily the best regular season record in the Ivy League. The division champs will be burdened by the absence of Conor Brooks, last year’s senior who led the league in ERA (1.92), wins (eight), innings pitched (79.2), and strikeouts (84). Dartmouth also lost James Little and Brian Nickerson, who topped the Ancient Eight in hits and homers, respectively. It will be up to junior John Velosky to ensure that the Green’s pitching staff remains the best.
Ford says: “I look for [Dartmouth] to be up there fighting for it again. They lost their best pitcher, but they have pretty good depth at pitching.”
The Bears finished last season with an 11-9 Ivy record, good for second in the Rolfe Division, and are in position to contend for the title again. Brown returns seven of its nine position players, including senior shortstop Dan Kantrovitz. Two years ago as a sophomore, Kantrovitz won the Blair Bat Award for the top Ivy hitter. Classmate Todd Larussi, last year’s Ivy leader in doubles, centers a speedy outfield. On the hill, Jim Johnson, a two-time all-Ivy choice, leads the starters.
Ford says: “They’ve had a pretty good run of it the last couple of years, and they have a good crew, especially their best pitcher, who’s coming back as well.”
The Crimson had a disappointing season last year, finishing third in the division at 10-10 after three straight titles. In order for Harvard to rebound, it will have to improve on the worst team batting average in the Ivy League (.260). Junior shortstop Mark Mager is a threat to steal bases and, along with classmate Faiz Shakir, forms a solid double-play combination. Senior hurler John Birtwell could very well be the best pitcher in the league this year.
Ford says: “I know Harvard’s going to jump back and be stronger this year.”
After having the worst record in the Ivy League last year and finishing last in the division at 3-17, the Bulldogs don’t show many signs of improvement. They lost their best pitcher, Sudha Reddy, to graduation, and the hitting corps also took a hit. The Elis’ bright spot is junior pitcher Jon Steitz, who fanned 48 hitters in 54 innings of work last season. Classmates Matt McCarthy and Craig Breslow will also boost the bullpen.