As droves of students escape the clutches of winter this weekend for the perennial spring break frivolities, the baseball team will get a taste of the major leagues as it heads down to Florida for eight contests. Matched up against some of the toughest squads in the Big Ten — including national powerhouse Ohio State — Cornell is assured a week of sunshine, beaches and superb baseball.
“These games are very valuable for us,” said Cornell head coach Tom Ford. “They give us a chance to get outside on a consistent basis. We are going to go down there and try to come back with a few wins.”
After a successful opening series against West Virginia, the Red (2-1) is hoping to build on its recent victories and leave Florida with a winning record. Cornell found that task difficult during last spring’s trip to California, when it went 0-7 against UC-Santa Barbara and California State-San Luis Obispo. However, this year’s team is determined to dissolve any memories of last season, focusing instead on preserving its current winning ways.
“It is a completely different team this season,” said senior shortstop Matt Miller. “That was last year, those were different teams. Now, we’re ready and confident to win.”
The key for Cornell will be to establish consistency on both offensive and defense. Following the Red’s strong overall performance at West Virginia, Ford and his players will concentrate on sustaining the team’s momentum against unfamiliar competition. A triumphant romp at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. — where the Red will take the field for eight consecutive days — would poise Cornell for the rigors of league play upon its return.
“It is the most important for us to go down there and play well,” said sophomore Jim Hyland. “We want to be playing our best ball when we come back for the Ivy schedule.”
Cornell opens the trip tomorrow against Illinois State, a team the Red has never faced in program history. The Redbirds (6-7) are led at the plate by junior catcher Jay Molina, a right-handed hitter with two home runs and 11 RBI this season. On the mound, the Red will be watching for senior Matt Fowles (2-0), a control pitcher with a 2.93 ERA.
On Sunday, the Red faces Northwestern (4-6), another team bolstered by a power-hitting catcher. Junior Pat McMahon is hitting .444 with a .704 slugging percentage, including two home runs.
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee will be Cornell’s next opponent in a two-game set slated to begin on Monday. The Panthers (2-7) boast rookie Jesse Hart, a redshirt freshman with a .471 batting average. Panthers head coach Jerry Augustine will place his pitching staff on a six-man rotation, with the Red likely to face junior Korey Keller or classmate Leroy Pederson.
Next Wednesday, the Red will take the field against Illinois (5-3-1). The Fighting Illini have posted an impressive 4-1 record away from home, and are anchored on offense by booming left fielder Drew Davidson (three home runs, four RBIs). Centerfielder Ryan Rogowski, a speedy junior out of Livonia, Mich., has six stolen bases for the Illini this season.
Lastly, Cornell will meet the Ohio State Buckeyes (4-4) in the eagerly anticipated final game of the trip. These two squads have an interesting history, having played every year from 1924-1931. Overall, the Buckeyes lead the all-time series, 8-3-1. This season, Ohio State has received significant offensive production from sophomores Jason Zoeller and Wes Schirtzinger.
For Ford and his squad, however, the statistics of their opponents is always secondary to Cornell’s personal performance.
“We’re not going to face a weak team down there,” Ford said. “I’m pleased with the way we have been executing, and we need to continue to progress.”
Archived article by Kyle Sheahen
Sun Senior Writer