The Cornell baseball team opens its 2011 season with two matchups against No. 8 Virginia sandwiched between two games versus Rider, all in Charlottesville, Va. The Red is first in action tomorrow at 12 p.m. against the Broncos and ends its weekend Sunday at 11 a.m. The games against the Cavaliers are tomorrow at 4 p.m. and Saturday at 3 p.m.
Cornell is coming off a disappointing 2010 campaign, in which it finished 18-20 overall and 9-11 in the Ivy League; however, the Red returns 12 letter-winners from a season ago, and brings a veteran ballclub into head coach Bill Walkenbach’s ’98 third season at Cornell.
“We’re absolutely excited for this season,” said junior catcher Brandon Lee, who suffered a knee injury last year in mid-April that sidelined him for the rest of the season after posting a .323 batting average and recording six multi-hit and four multi-RBI games. “We brought back a lot of guys from last year. We have a lot of veterans and we’re hoping to take the next step.”
Rider (1-2) also has many upperclassmen on its roster, and boasts a well-respected program.
“Rider is a tough team and they’re well-known baseball program,” said senior first baseman and pitcher Jadd Schmeltzer, who struggled on the mound in five starts last season after a strong sophomore year. “It’s going to be interesting — two veteran ball clubs starting out the year. They have a couple great pitchers and great hitters we’ll have to contend with.”
However, Virginia (7-1) is certainly the stiffer competition of the weekend. The Cavaliers could send preseason first-team All-American pitcher Danny Hultzen to the mound, although it’s unknown whether he’ll face the Red. The junior southpaw is the reigning ACC Pitcher of the Year and went 11-1 with a 2.78 ERA in 2010.
“Virginia is [No. 8] in the nation, but we know not to get overwhelmed by the situation we’re put in,” said senior pitcher Corey Pappel, who led Cornell with 51.0 innings pitched and 52 strikeouts last season. “Anything can happen, we still have to go out and play nine innings.”
Cornell players invested a lot of time in the offseason and believe they are prepared for the long-awaited opening day. Schmeltzer noted the advantage Southern teams hold, and admitted that the late start to the season can sometimes cause overexcitement for teams like Cornell.
“The game against Virginia is going to be a challenge,” he said. “They’re going to have had [nine] games under their belt, while we’re here getting antsy from our weather and scrimmaging only ourselves.”
“We’ve mostly been playing inside this whole time, so we’re going to have to get used to playing outside this weekend,” Pappel added.
Going from a sub-.500 record to an Ivy League championship would be quite a jump, but a league crown remains the Red’s goal this season.
“Most of us are looking for an Ivy League championship — that’s what we’ve been aiming for the past eight months,” Pappel said. “Last year we played very well most of the time, but had lapses and little mistakes. Eliminating little mistakes, which is probably the hardest thing to do, is the key.”
“Our mindset is that we need to come out strong,” Schmeltzer said. “We’re ready to start this campaign for an Ivy League title.”