Baseball is a sport of numbers. Hitters are valued by their batting averages, pitchers by their earned run averages. Ultimately, a season is often judged by the team’s overall record, overshadowing anything beyond the win column.
In using that same strategy to evaluate the Cornell baseball team’s season last year, the results would be a .287 combined batting average, a 6.87 ERA, a .945 fielding percentage, and a 15-24 overall record. The Red’s hitting mark placed the team fourth in the league, and its ERA and fielding average were both seventh. Considering these three categories, the squad looked like non-contenders for the Ivy Championship this year. But that could not have been further from the truth.
The league is split into two four-team divisions: Cornell, Princeton, Pennsylvania, and Columbia are in the Gehrig division, while Dartmouth, Brown, Yale, and Harvard make up the Rolfe division. The winners of each division face off in a best-of-three series, with the victor becoming the outright Ivy champion.
After having completed 12 conference games last year, the Red was nursing a 5-7 record with a slim chance to catch Princeton. The Tigers held the number one spot in the Gehrig division with an 8-4 record.
Be it ever so slim, that chance was all Cornell needed. In the last 11 games of the season, the Red went 8-3 overall, including a 6-2 stint in the Ivies. Of those eight contests, the last four were against the Tigers.
Entering that weekend, the Red was sitting on an 8-8 league mark, while the Tigers were at 12-4. In order to force a one-game playoff with Princeton, Cornell had to sweep. It came up just shy, losing the third game by a 4-1 score but taking the other three. The Tigers went on to win the Ivy crown against Rolfe division victor Dartmouth in two games.
That is how close Cornell was to flying the Ivy League Pennant at Hoy Field.
Despite the team’s success at the end of the season, head coach Tom Ford was quick to dispel direct similarities.
“As a coach you do always compare this year to last, but you try not to compare too much because it is a new team,” he remarked.
This is a look at Cornell’s depth around the horn:
“The guys we lost [to graduation] were pretty good pitchers, but they didn’t get a lot of our wins,” Ford explained. “[Junior] Brendan McQuaid has gone 9-1 in the League in the past two years, and you have to feel good about that.”
McQuaid has been the Red’s top pitcher since he joined the team his freshman year. He earned All-Ivy second team during both his rookie and sophomore years, going 4-1 and 5-0, respectively, in the league. He posted a team best 3.41 league ERA in his rookie season, and a team best 5.31 overall mark in his sophomore campaign. His six wins were the third best in the Ivies last year.
Senior David Self will play an important role in the starting rotation as well. Self’s 5.18 overall ERA last year was second on the team behind McQuaid, but his season was cut short by an injury.
Versatile junior Eric Rico, who will also spend some time in right field, stepped in to fill the void left after Self was hurt. He was named to the All-Ivy second team last year for his solid offensive production. Rico had a team high .358 batting average and 27 RBIs. In eight appearances on the mound, Rico had a 7.39 ERA and 26 strike-outs.
These three men will round out the top of the rotation, with the fourth spot still up for grabs.
“We feel real good with those three guys returning, and we feel pretty good with some of these young guys coming in here,” Ford commented.
Questions always arise about a squad’s depth. Ford addressed this issue.
“One of our priorities was to improve our depth and the quality of our depth pitching, and we think we did it this year,” he asserted. “Last year, some guys stayed in the games and fought their way through some things, but this year we don’t think we are going to have to do that.”
With four incoming freshmen pitchers, the Red has another source for help on the mound.
“Dan Gala will be in the rotation, Chris Schutt, Tom Gifford, and Glenn Morris should get some innings. They definitely contribute to the depth of this team,” Ford stated about the rookies.
Although the rotation is fairly set, the roles of the relievers are still being evaluated.
“Right now, we don’t have a clear cut set-up man and a closer,” Ford said.
“We feel pretty confident about guys coming out and getting outs, so it is just who is doing it most consistently.
“If one guy isn’t doing it, we will put someone else in. If he’s not doing it, we will put another guy in. We have some depth in the bullpen, and that helps in the way we play our game,” he added.
Sophomores Tony Depalo and Paul Hudson — both new to the team this year — will share time as the backstop. Depalo transferred in from the Naval Academy where he saw limited action as a freshman. Hudson was not on the roster last year.
“Right now we are just going to split time with them so we don’t wear them down,” Ford conveyed.
Senior Raul Gomez returns to third base after being named to the All-Ivy second team last year. He posted a .321 batting average, which was good for second on the team. He hit 14 doubles and a team-high 32 RBIs. He was also the only player to start every game last season.
Junior Andrew Luria, a repeat Honorable Mention All-Ivy selection last year, was the Red’s second baseman, but will spend his time in centerfield this season. Luria hit .317 on the year with nine doubles and 18 RBIs.
Gifford is the starting first baseman when not pitching.
Shortstop and second base have not been finalized and there are several players going for those positions.
“At shortstop we have [junior] Vinny Santo back and [senior] Mike Nemeth. Both of them saw some time there last year,” Ford mentioned. “Nemeth is a real stable, consistent player, and Santo did a good job offensively and made plays in the field,” he said.
Senior John Mills could take some time away from Santo at second, which was the main reason for Luria’s move to center.
“It’s not like we are panicking because we don’t know where our starters are. I think any move we make will only improve us,” Ford assured.
When he’s not on the mound, Rico will cover right field and bat third. Meanwhile Luria will play center. Similar to the situation with the infield, the third and fourth spots are up for grabs.
“[Senior] Nick Graham has been swinging the bat real well, so he will probably get some time there. We have some other guys there. [Junior] Justin Irizarry, who saw quite a bit of time there last year, and [freshman pitcher] Morris are all competing for that spot right now,” Ford summarized.
Senior Flint Foley will bat for the pitchers (except Rico) and will back up first base.
The freshman class’s role on this team is an active one, and Ford has emphasized that since the first practice.
“We feel we have a really good recruiting class coming in, and I know pitching-wise we are going to have to get some production from them. We have told them since the fall that we expect them to contribute, and I think they are all definitely up to the challenge,” he stated.
The team has also stressed the importance of fielding, since it was at the bottom of the league last ye
“Our philosophy is that the defense has to be consistent,” Ford said. “Certainly the game is hard enough with 27 outs in nine innings, and our demise last year was giving up big innings. We have definitely focused on that.”
While the Ivy competition will be stiff this year, the Red should have a shot at the division title if the team can find the same momentum that fueled its run last year.
Archived article by Katherine Granish