This was not one of the finer weekends for the baseball program. After dropping a pair of games on Saturday at Harvard, not once, but twice via walk-off home runs, the Cornell offense exploded for 29 runs on Sunday only to lose both games of a doubleheader at Dartmouth.
In Game 1 at Cambridge, junior right-handed closer Dave Rochefort took over for sophomore starter Jadd Schmeltzer in the seventh and final inning, with one out left in the game and a 5-2 lead. Rochefort inherited two runners, who had reached base on consecutive miscues by senior shortstop Scott Hardinger and junior centerfielder Nate David. Rochefort then surrendered an RBI-single up the middle to sophomore outfielder Dillon O’Neill that sliced the deficit to two runs.
“I went out there and told him, ‘Just keep getting ground balls. These players will make plays for you,’” said senior catcher Adam Jacobs. “He wasn’t worried. It happens. It’s not something you can get mad about. There’s nothing you can do to change it. There was no blame or anything. He looked at me and I knew he knew that we were going to get this next guy. Unfortunately, it did not go that way. Errors happen. Bad pitches happen.”
Senior Taylor Meehan provided the heroics when he turned on a 2-1 slider and drove it over the right field fence for a three-run game-winner. It was only his second home run this year.
“I came back with a slider down and in,” Rochefort said. “He’s left-handed. He did not even get a great swing on the ball. He kind of just got it up in the wind. The wind at this field is pretty out of this world.”
“It’s a mixture of regret and disgust,” Hardinger said. “Personally, I just regret making that first error to start off the inning. That kind of got the ball rolling for them. We had a big lead and deserved to win that game if it wasn’t for that last inning. There’s not much that can be said about that kind of game.”
Unfortunately for the Red, déjà vu struck in Game 2. The Red jumped out to a 4-0 lead thanks primarily to senior leftfielder Dom Di Ricco’s three-run blast down the right field line in the sixth inning. Unluckily for the Red, protecting a lead was its Achilles’ heel all weekend.
The Red’s lead turned into a 5-4 deficit heading into the top of the ninth. Senior third baseman Nathan Ford knotted the game at 5-5, with his team-leading fifth home run of the season. Ford would end the day hitting 5-for-7 with a double and a pair of home runs, scoring three times and knocking in four runners.
Although sophomore reliever Mike Carroll retired two batters before senior Harry Douglas delivered a single to left, head coach Bill Walkenbach ’98 called upon Rochefort one more time.
All it took was one pitch and the game was over. The Crimson was celebrating again at home plate as senior outfielder Tom Stack-Babich rounded the bases after launching a two-run bomb, his seventh of the season.
“In my opinion, I made a great pitch, a slider down and away, which is my best pitch,” Rochefort said. “It was the first pitch of the at-bat and the kid kind of just came out there and golfed it. Once again, it got up in the wind to right-center. Frankly, when I was walking off of the mound and he hit it, I thought it was a pretty routine fly ball and it just kept on traveling.”
Jacobs echoed his battery mate’s sentiments.
“He threw a good pitch,” Jacobs said. “[Stack-Babich] just put a good swing on it. I think he was sitting on a slider. We were all kind of in shock. There’s not too much to say to one particular player at that point.”
“I took Saturday’s losses pretty hard into the night, but I’ve always had the ability to shake off what happened the day before,” Rochefort said. “Ever since I was in Little League, I have always had that day-to-day mentality. I didn’t have any issue really. I don’t think I’ll have an issue going on for the rest of the year.”
On Sunday, the Red climbed out of an early 3-0 hole to take a 7-3 lead in the fourth inning at Dartmouth. However, Cornell’s lead quickly evaporated as the Green tacked on six runs in the bottom of the fourth inning.
The nightcap proved to not be any easier for Cornell as Dartmouth rallied for nine runs in the second inning. Cornell would chip away at the lead for most of the game, but ultimately fell short with runners on first and second base and the tying run at the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning.
“It was pretty hard to get down by that much that early in the game,” Hardinger said. “Basically, it was the third inning of that game when we got back up to the plate and we just knew that we were going to have to chip away every inning. … It’s just hard when you give up that many runs, but that’s part of the game. Dartmouth is definitely one of the better teams in the Ivy League. We made a few mistakes pitching-wise and they took advantage of it.”
“Honestly, it does make it tough to win ballgames that way,” Hardinger added. “Some days our hitting has problems and our pitching does real well. Some days our pitching doesn’t do real well, but we’re hitting the ball, so we have to get that combination of good pitching and good hitting at the same time.”
Hardinger paced the Red offense, going 6-for-8 on the day, driving in one run and scoring twice. Freshman outfielder Brian Billigen stepped up nicely for injured classmate Frank Hager and scored a team-high four runs while going 5-for-9 at the plate. Jacobs went 2-for-6 with two extra base hits, including an RBI-double and a solo bomb in the night cap. It was his first home run since returning from elbow surgery last season.
“I was happy I could help our team get on the board there,” Jacobs said. “I hit it, put my head down, ran straight around the bases and right into the dugout. I was hoping that it would at least help us and it did. When I hit it, I was not thinking, ‘Oh, I’m back. All that hard work has paid off.’ It was nice to see that my swing is finally going again because I’ve been struggling a little bit at the plate.”
Perhaps the best thing to come out of this weekend is that Cornell has no more games remaining on the docket against the four Ivy League schools in Rolfe Division. Cornell went a combined 2-6 against Rolfe teams. But more indicative of the divisional divide that exists amongst the Ivy League conference is the fact that the worst record in the Rolfe Division is Yale’s four wins and four losses, while the best record in the Gehrig Division is Columbia’s four wins and four losses.
Cornell can only hope that what proved to be a dismal weekend against out-of-division opponents has adequately prepared the team for upcoming games against hopefully lesser divisional foes.