Sean O’Sullivan is a 28-year-old journeyman in Spring Training for the Boston Red Sox. Paul Balestrieri is a junior in Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences. What do they have in common? They both were tabbed as starting pitchers against Northeastern last week, O’Sullivan by Red Sox manager John Farrell on Tuesday and Balestrieri by Cornell head coach Dan Pepicelli on Saturday.
Cornell baseball (1-2) dropped its first series of the season to Northeastern (6-5) at neutral, tropical Winter Haven, Florida last weekend. The Red was shut out in the first and third games, 6-0 on Saturday and 11-0 on Sunday morning, and picked up the middle game, 7-5.
In the first game on Saturday, Cornell hit some balls hard and right at fielders. Senior left fielder Jordan Winawer pointed out that despite all the work the Red has put in since arriving on campus in August, there is no substitute for game action.
“[Northeastern starter Aaron Civale] has pretty good stuff but it’s nothing we haven’t seen,” he said. “It takes a couple of at bats for some guys … to get settled in.”
Senior shortstop Eliot Lowell said some had jitters taking the field for the first time this season. He agreed with Pepicelli that Cornell hit well.
“It was more good pitching than bad hitting,” Lowell said.
With the second game also set to be played on Saturday, Cornell was tasked with shaking off a loss quickly.
It took the team five batters into the first inning to put three runs on the board. The game’s first two batters reached base and scored on a two-run triple by junior first baseman cleanup hitter Cole Rutherford, a transfer playing in his first Cornell game. Rutherford was knocked in by a double from sophomore right fielder Dale Wickham.
“We jumped all over him in the first inning,” Winawer said about Northeastern’s opposing pitcher. “That’s what our offense expected to do.”
Senior left hander Michael Byrne, handed a lead, was touched for an unearned run and did not last long enough to factor in the decision. The Huskies, trailing 5-1 after five innings, chipped away against Cornell’s bullpen, taking advantage of a few costly walks. After eight, the game was tied up at five. With a man on in the top of the ninth, up again stepped Rutherford, who launched one out of the park for a two-run homer.
“Cole’s a big part of our lineup,” Winawer said. “He got a good pitch to hit. It was a no doubter … It’s huge for him.”
The 7-5 score held up in the bottom of the ninth, and Pepicelli earned his first victory as a Cornell manager.
After solid mechanics and results on Saturday, Cornell did not have a good game on Sunday. Northeastern scored with clean hits. They scored on errors. They invoked the mercy rule.
“Sunday, we got exactly what we deserved swinging the bat,” Pepicelli said. “We didn’t play good defense, we didn’t pound the zone.”
Lowell, who committed one of the box score’s three Red errors, said he found himself reluctant to trust on the work he had put in. When you find yourself thinking when a ball is hit at you, you are in trouble, according to Lowell.
“We need to trust ourselves,” Lowell said. “We need to trust the process.”
After dropping the rubber game, Pepicelli and the Red are not satisfied with the inconsistent start.
“We could have won the series,” Pepicelli. “I expect to win.”
Winawer echoed his coach’s optimism.
“We flashed some signs of what we’re expecting from the team,” Winawer said. “We were able to see where we’re able to improve.”
The slow start aside, Pepicelli has full confidence in his players and the team culture he has worked to help establish.
“This is a great group of kids,” he said.