IMG Academy has seen its fair share of baseball stars, as both Gary Sheffield and Nomar Garciaparra honed their swings in Bradenton, Fla. Last week, the friendly confines of the Florida baseball factory may have witnessed the arrival of another star: Cornell’s freshman Brant McKown.
The Ivy League’s co-Player and Rookie of the Week, McKown hit .615 in his first three games and went 10-for 28 in seven games as the Red (4-8) went 2-5 on its Spring Break trip.
“Brant swung the bat really well and produced some runs for us,” said head coach Tom Ford.
The Red opened its trip last Saturday with a dramatic 12-inning, 8-7 win over Eastern Kentucky (10-8) in the first game of a double header.
With two outs and two strikes, freshman pinch hitter Adam Jacobs launched a rocket that hugged the left-field line all the way down to the fence and won the game for Cornell.
“Adam obviously won the game for us and came up real big for us,” Ford said. “It certainly was a big jump for us, but unfortunately, we didn’t hold the momentum too long that same day when we got beat pretty badly by Bradley.”
Possibly feeling the effects of its extra-inning outing just a few hours before, Cornell couldn’t match up to the bats of Bradley (9-9) in Game 2. Four pitchers combined to give up 19 runs in the first four innings of the Red’s 24-2 loss to the Braves.
“We just didn’t pitch, and then we got to a situation where you can’t use any pitchers up because you’re looking at a game a day for the next three days,” Ford said.
In all, Cornell used six pitchers on the day, including sophomore third baseman Jimmy Heinz, who pitched a scoreless seventh for the Red.
Cornell took out some pent up aggression from its 22-run loss the next day, defeating Vermont, 12-6.
Heinz, McKown, and sophomore Brian Kaufman all collected three hits against the Catamounts (1-13), while sophomore Bryce Klinestecker pitched six innings for the win.
Freshman Chris Carls’ three innings of one-run relief also appeared to make the rookie a frontrunner as the Red’s closer.
“We’ve still got a little research that we’ve got to do, but he seems to be the guy that’s going to jump in there,” Ford said. “He’s done a nice job.”
Cornell closed out its week in Bradenton with pairs of games against Big 10 opponents – Ohio State (11-4), and Illinois (10-6)
The Red couldn’t quiet the bats from Columbus in its first game against Ohio State last Monday, giving up 16 hits in its 12-4 loss.
“I don’t think we pitched as well as we can,” Ford said. “The guys battled, but they got some runs early on us, and the game was kind of not in question.”
Freshman Scott Hardinger hit his first career home run in the loss.
Cornell held Ohio State to just five hits in the two teams’ second meeting, but the Buckeyes made the most of their opportunities, defeating the Red, 6-0. Sophomore Walker Toma pitched five shutout innings before surrendering four runs in the sixth for the loss.
“We just didn’t swing the bats in that game like I thought we were capable of,” Ford said. “It looked like in the first few innings of that game I thought we were going to get on [Ohio State’s J.B. Shuck], we had pretty good approaches, but kind of lost that along the way.”
After an off-day on Wednesday, Red returned to action Thursday, falling, 6-4, in 10 innings to Illinois.
Cornell jumped out to a one-run lead in the bottom of the fifth thanks to an RBI single by Hardinger, but Illinois knotted the game in the sixth, and touched Carls for five runs in the 10th inning. The Red got three runs back in the bottom of the 10th, but fell short in its comeback bid.
The offensive explosion of Thursday’s `10th inning carried on into Friday, as Cornell closed out its trip with a wild, 19-12, loss to the Illini.
Five Red batters had multi-hit games, as Cornell took a 10-5 lead into the sixth inning, before allowing 14 runs in final three innings of the game.
The letdown was indicative of Ford’s major concerns for his squad as it heads into Ivy play this weekend with home games against Dartmouth and Harvard.
“Certainly I’m happy with the effort of the guys. We played some very good baseball against some very good teams for a period of time,” he said. “I think the big thing we have to do pitching-wise is locate better. That was our big downfall … and when you do that against quality teams they’re going to take advantage of it, which is why you want to play these teams. You want to play them to beat them but you also want to get tested as well.”
Archived article by Paul Testa
Sun Assistant Sports Editor