Senior outfielder Chris Cruz had been in this situation before. He had stared into the same set of eyes before, stepped to the plate with the game on the line before. Almost a year ago, Cruz had given his team its first Ivy League championship with a walkoff homerun off Dartmouth’s closer Thomas Olson. This time, with Olson staring him down once again, Cruz dug in with two outs in the ninth inning of a 1-0 game on Sunday, hoping to give his team a thrilling win in Ivy play.
“It was real intense,” said senior infielder Brenton Peters. “You had guys yelling ‘hit that guy’ or ‘this is awkward.’”
Cruz ripped a pitch from Olson down the first base line, but it was snagged by the Green’s first baseman, ending the threat and allowing Olson to breathe a sigh of relief.
“I’m pretty sure it was laying in the back of his mind, because he didn’t throw Chris a single fastball,” Peters said. “He definitely didn’t want that to happen again.”
Cruz could not recreate the magic of a year ago, and the Red fell to Dartmouth in the first game of the series on Sunday after a walkoff walk for the Green in the bottom of the ninth.
The Red got another solid pitching performance from sophomore hurler Brian McAfee, who went seven innings without allowing a run in that game. The bullpen was unable to hold on to the scoreless streak, though. Freshman Michael Byrne came in to pitch a scoreless eighth, but after an infield hit and two walks, the Red found itself on the losing end against the Green. The Red’s bullpen has been a strong point this season and in the past, although it has taken a hit with the loss of sophomore closer Kellen Urbon — who was named Ivy League Rookie of the Year last season. According to Peters, though, the relief staff is strong enough to carry the team in his absence.
“Michael Byrne, Matt Horton, those guys are always real reliable,” he said. “They can come in in any situation and we have the utmost confidence for them to get us out of it, so there’s no doubt about our bullpen.”
The Red bounced back in the second game against the Green on the back of another impressive outing by junior left-hander Zach McCulley. In his first collegiate complete game, McCulley allowed four hits, struck out five and retired the final ten batters he faced. Unlike in McAfee’s start, though, the Red’s offense gave McCulley some support. Sophomore outfielder JD Whetsel and junior first baseman Ryan Plantier both had two hits and an RBI.
On Saturday, the Red took on Harvard in Cambridge, Mass. In keeping with the theme for the team so far this season, sophomore pitcher Nick Busto was stellar on the mound again. He handed the Red another complete game victory, allowing just one run while fanning seven.
“He’s been real solid for us,” Peters said. “We expect when he’s on the mound that we’ll see a lot of strikes, we’ll get ground balls and fly balls. Our pitching staff has done really well and he’s another arm that props us up.”
Though Cornell struck first in the third with an RBI double by sophomore catcher Matt Hall, the Crimson responded in the bottom of the frame with a run of their own. The Red did not waste much time getting back on top, scoring two runs in the top of the next inning off a double by senior outfielder Conor McCabe. That was all the support Busto needed, as he cruised to a 3-1 victory for his fourth win of the season.
The second game of the series was a disappointment for the Red. Sophomore Brent Jones went three and one third innings, allowing seven hits and three runs. Despite his rough outing, the Red still found itself with a four-run lead going into the bottom of the seventh inning. The Crimson’s offense woke up in that inning, though, capitalizing on some walks by the Red’s relievers and putting up seven runs in the frame.
“It was just a lack of focus, and everything seemed to piece together for them while nothing was really going right for us,” Peters said. “They put a big crooked number up on us at a crucial point in the game.”
The Crimson’s big inning silenced the Red’s offense, as it was unable to fight back in the final two innings, falling 10-7.
“We need to learn to close out games more efficiently and step on the toes of the other teams when we have the chance,” Peters said.
After taking three out of four in its first weekend of Ivy play, the Red split in both of its series this weekend. The Red begins play against Lou Gehrig Division opponents next weekend with an away series against Columbia. According to Peters, despite the early losses, the team is still in good position on the brink of divisional play.
“We definitely would have liked to be better [at this point], but we’re coming up on an important part of the season where we play guys in our own division,” he said. “If we win three out of four or four out of four against them, then we should be in the Ivy championship series with no problem.”
Original Author: Scott Chiusano