The baseball team finds itself in a deep hole in the Ivy League standings. This weekend, the team will have a golden opportunity to dig itself most of the way out. Cornell (11-17, 4-8 Ivy) will host Gehrig Division-leading Columbia (18-14, 9-3 Ivy) in a four-game series beginning tomorrow.
If the Red is able to sweep the weekend series, it will pull within a game of first place in the Gehrig Division. If Cornell fails to do so, the squad will essentially need a miracle the following weekend in order to repeat as the division champion.
“Our outcome this weekend is going to make or break our season,” said junior first baseman Mickey Brodsky. “If we win the series, we’re still in the race. If we don’t, we’re out of it.”
The Red will have its hands full with a much-improved Columbia squad. The Lions won a mere seven conference games a season ago, but was able to surpass that total halfway through their conference schedule this season. Columbia has been remarkably consistent thus far, winning three of four games in each of its three weekends of Ivy League play.
The Red will look to its ace, junior Corey Pappel, to take control of the series in game one. Last season against Columbia, Pappel did not earn a decision despite a strong start in which he allowed two runs in six innings.
“He’s the best pitcher in the Ivy League,” Brodsky said. “With Corey starting, we can beat anybody. We’re definitely really confident that we can get that first victory and move from there.”
Pappel will challenge a Columbia offense that is both potent and balanced. Of the eight Lions who have started more than 20 games, all but one is batting at least .310. Two of the team’s best hitters have been rookies Nick Ferraresi and Dario Pizzano. Ferraresi is fourth in the conference in RBI at 30. Pizzano is batting .347 with a team-leading eight home runs and an absurd .745 slugging percentage.
“Throwing a lot of strikes and making them try to put it in play,” Pappel said of his approach. “I’m at my best when they’re swinging and hitting groundballs.”
The rest of the Red’s staff may struggle to match up with that of Columbia. The Lions’ pitching staff sports a team ERA of 5.69 –– good for third in the conference –– and has roughly a 2.5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Cornell, by comparison, has a 6.99 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio closer to 1.5-to-1.
Last season, Cornell ventured into Columbia’s ballpark and took three of four games from the home team. Clutch play, in the form of an extra innings win and a come-from-behind victory, allowed the Red to sweep last year’s Sunday doubleheader after the teams traded wins on Saturday. The strong weekend was crucial to Cornell’s division championship and place in the conference championship series. With similar success this weekend, the Red would position itself for a second consecutive late season charge up the conference standings.
“[We need to win] as many as possible –– four ideally,” Pappel said. “This is a big weekend to send a message to say we’re out here to win. I think we definitely have the ability to do it.”