A spot to battle against the Rolfe Division champion for the Ivy League title is up for grabs this weekend as Cornell takes on Princeton. The Red will tangle with the Tigers in a twinbill today at Clarke Field before returning home to Hoy Field on Sunday to wrap up the final two games of this series and the Ancient Eight season.
Since the Ivy League switched to a two-division format in 1993, no team has ever finished in last place for three years in a row, then bounced back to capture a division title the very next season. Cornell would be the first team to pull off such a remarkable turnaround.
“Every year we expect to compete for the division title and then eventually the Ivy League title,” said senior catcher Adam Jacobs. “If you don’t expect that going into the season, then why play? Year in and year out, that is what we expect and this year even with the [coaching] changes and everything, we knew we had a chance and we’re here right now. We’re just trying to keep it going and take it one game at a time.”
The playoff outlook is simple. The team that wins at least three games this weekend will clinch the best record in the Gehrig Division and earn the right to compete for the Ivy League championship. However, if Cornell (13-19, 8-8 Ivy) and Princeton (16-15, 8-8 Ivy) split the four-game set, the two teams would meet next week in a single-game, winner-take-all tiebreaker.
“[Our players] have earned the right to be in this position,” said pitching coach Scott Marsh. “They have been playing very good baseball. I think they’re excited and looking forward to the weekend. We took three of four from Penn, we took three of four from Columbia and we would like to finish off that job by taking three of four from the last team in our division [that we have not faced yet]. They’re looking forward to the opportunity, definitely.”
Sophomore hurler Jadd Schmeltzer will headline the rotation again this weekend for the Red in today’s opener. The right hander ranks second in the conference with a 3.77 ERA while limiting opponents to a .242 batting average. After tossing only 4.1 innings last year, Schmeltzer has emerged as the Red’s ace this season.
“Jadd was a football player last year and they were trying to bulk him up to become an offensive lineman,” Marsh said. “They were trying to put a lot of weight on him and he was doing a lot of lifting that was not conducive to him having nice long muscles that you need as a pitcher. You don’t see a lot of bodybuilders who are pitchers. You see more of the long, lanky guys with the nice whipping action in the arm. Jadd had basically over-lifted last year and we just could not get him on the mound. His arm just was not firing.”
“He got on a different weightlifting program now that he’s exclusively a baseball player and that certainly helped him,” Marsh added. “Then, we also made a few mechanical adjustments with him. We tried to keep him a little bit better balanced on the mound. He is such a big kid and he is an intimidating figure out on the mound. You get this kid that is 6-5 and 235 pounds and he’s pumping the ball in there. He’s a great kid to have out there on the mound. He has done a nice job just aggressively going after hitters.”
Sophomore Corey Pappel is slated to throw in Game 2 today before sophomore southpaw Mickey Brodsky and junior lefty Matt Hill take the mound for Cornell in Games 3 and 4 on Sunday.
Princeton is led by a steady stable of starting pitching and boasts three of the league’s top-10 pitchers — sophomore left-hander David Palms, junior right-hander David Hale and senior right-hander Brad Gemberling. The Tigers will send Hale and Gemberling to the hill in today’s doubleheader. Palms and junior lefty Stuber Langford will finish up the four-game series on Sunday. Princeton paces the Ivy League with a 5.07 team ERA.
“Right now, Princeton is the top pitching team in the league,” Marsh said. “Their four starters have been doing a very nice job, so were going to have to do a good job against their top guys. We’re going to have to make sure that we see a lot of pitches and hopefully get into their bullpen.”
“[Hale] is a kid who has been identified as a potential top two or three round draft pick,” Marsh added. “He has topped out at 97 mph at some points this year. I know last year he was as high as 94, 95. He has a very live arm and we’re just going to have to do a good job of being patient, getting pitches we can hit off of him and doing a good job when he gives us pitches to hit. Gemberling is another kid who is a very good pitcher. He has an excellent slider, so we’re going to have to make sure that we are not chasing that slider out of the zone.”
Cornell’s offense is led by two of the top-3 hitters in the Ancient Eight this season. Freshman centerfielder Brian Billigen paces the Red with a robust .410 batting average and senior third baseman Nathan Ford is hitting at a .381 clip. Ford tops the squad with eight long balls, tying him for fourth all-time on Cornell’s single season list. In addition, Ford enters this weekend with a .364 career batting average, which is two points higher than Erik Rico’s all-time mark held from 1999-2002.
“We have faced a couple of their pitchers in years past,” Jacobs said. “They have a pretty experienced staff. We’re going to try to keep the same approach we have had going, which is [stepping into the batter’s box] with the intent to win the battle. We’re up there to do a job. We will just keep looking for good pitches to hit and hopefully we square them up and do some damage. It does not matter who is on the mound that is the approach we’re taking.”
One final scenario remains where a three-way tie for first place in the Gehrig Division could occur this weekend. If Columbia (10-29, 6-10 Ivy), which trails Cornell and Princeton by two games, sweeps its four-game series against Penn (14-23, 2-14 Ivy) this weekend while the Red and the Tigers split their series, there would be a three-way tie atop the division. A champion would ultimately be crowned after playing a pair of tiebreaker games slated for next week.