The Cornell baseball team will hit the road on Tuesday to take on LeMoyne College. The Red (8-17, 5-7), which is rounding into form after a rough start to the season, took three of four from the University of Pennsylvania over the weekend.
Outfielder Brian Billigen was one of the key contributors in a Cornell attack, which battered Quaker pitching for 24 runs in the series. The freshman leadoff hitter raised his batting average to .408 and his on-base percentage to .463. Billigen, who has swiped four bases in six attempts this year, has found other ways to wreak havoc with his speed. In the Red’s 3-2 extra-inning victory over Penn, he put Cornell on the scoreboard in the first when he scampered home on a wild pitch. Billigen attributes the team’s recent success to its players’ familiarity with one another.
“It’s just experience together,” he said. “Just playing together for as long as we have during the season, we’ve figured out what our strengths and weaknesses are, we’ve got the rotation set up the way we want it and we’ve got some timely hitting now with the weather. A lot of teams struggle in cold weather, but we’ve been playing well in it.”
The Red will not have to battle chilly temperatures against LeMoyne, but it will have to win away from Hoy Field, something it hasn’t done since the end of February.
Freshman Derek Zielinski will take the mound for the Dolphins (10-16) in their home opener. The right-hander struggled early in the 2009 campaign, but recorded five shutout innings against Cansius College in his last start. Zielinski has struggled to keep opponents off the basepaths, walking 13 in 18.2 innings. Even in his one-hit gem against Cansius, the freshman issued four free passes. For the Red, which features four regulars who get on base in over 40 percent of their at-bats, Zielinski’s wildness can only be a good thing. If Zielinski hits the showers early, it will expose the soft underbelly of the 2009 Dolphins — the bullpen.
LeMoyne manager Steve Owens has mixed and matched his largely ineffective relievers throughout the season and has yet to find a successful formula. Sophomore Tom McDermott has appeared in 11 games out of the pen, compiling a 6.32 ERA, and although he is averaging nearly a strikeout per inning, the southpaw has struggled to keep runners off base. Senior Brandon Otto is Owens’ best relief option from the right side. While capable of missing bats, Otto is even more prone to missing the plate. The reliever has uncorked four wild pitches, hit three batters and walked 15 more in just 15 innings this season. Sophomore starter Cory Nelson sometimes enters the game in relief, but he threw 5.2 innings on Friday and will probably be unavailable against the Red.
For all of their hitting woes, the Dolphins do present a strong lineup. Collegiate Baseball selected junior Chris Edmondson to its pre-season All-America team following a monster 2008 campaign in which he hit .367/.464/.745. The outfielder’s numbers have dipped dramatically this season, but he remains LeMoyne’s most dangerous offensive threat. Senior Matt Nandin enters play on a 10-game hitting streak, which has raised his batting average to .377. The shortstop is a pesky hitter who grinds out at-bats and rarely strikes out.
Sophomore Taylor Wood will try to pick up his second win of the year when he toes the rubber against the Dolphins. The right-hander has amassed 26 innings between the bullpen and the starting rotation this season. Although he has willingly filled whatever role manager Bill Walkenbach has asked of him, Wood prefers life as a starter.
“I like to start because it’s easier to get into a routine,” he said.
Wood made a compelling case for himself last Wednesday against Binghamton, when he tossed seven innings of one-run ball, striking out five. As Wood looks to build upon his last performance, he must locate his pitches.
“It’s a matter of relaxing and hitting my spots, not worrying about throwing hard,” Wood said. “I try to keep the ball low and get movement on my pitches.”
Some might consider Tuesday’s matchup a trap game because it comes on the heels of a successful weekend series and doesn’t carry Ivy League implications. Just don’t look for the Cornell players to let down their guards.
“You can’t take a break,” Billigen said. “You can’t go into a game expecting to win just because it’s out of conference and it’s not what we’re used to. We’ve got to keep the same mindset that we had against Penn.”