After losing seven of its first eight games to begin the season, Cornell’s baseball team (6-7) has strung together five consecutive wins going into tomorrow’s doubleheader at Ithaca College (6-5), with a chance to reach the .500 mark.
The team has been playing well in all facets of the game recently, sweeping Big Ten foe Penn State, 4-3 and 5-2, earlier in the week.
The Red’s pitching staff has been particularly effective during the winning streak and throughout the early portion of this season after being a glaring weakness in 2002. Last year’s pitching staff compiled a stratospheric 6.55 ERA, but this season’s much improved staff carries a solid 4.29 ERA into this weekend’s games against the nationally-ranked Division III Bombers.
“Simply, the key to our five-game winning streak has been the pitching staff. They’ve done a tremendous job keeping us in games. You’ve got Dave Sharfstein, Chris Schutt, Dan Gala, Dan Baysinger, and some of our newer guys just doing really great jobs. I’ve definitely been impressed with all our pitchers,” said head coach Tom Ford about his pitching staff’s primary role in the Red’s recent turnaround.
Senior tri-captain Sharfstein (0-2, 4.42 ERA, 1 Sv) and junior Schutt (1-2, 3.18) will take the hill for Cornell in the two seven-inning contests, with most of the bullpen available for action if either falters. Though Sharfstein has yet to collect a win in his first season as a starting pitcher, he has gotten progressively stronger with each performance. He has pitched an inning more in each successive starting appearance, culminating in a seven plus inning performance against Delaware State in his last start.
After seven shutout innings against the Hornets, he tired after surpassing 100 pitches in the eighth, and left responsible for three runs. The senior also appeared in relief against Penn State, coming into a tight seventh inning game and recording a save.
“I don’t think there’s any reason I won’t be able to go out and throw eight or nine innings every time out there from now on,” said Sharfstein. “I didn’t have the command I needed earlier in the season, but I feel good now, and I’m ready to go.”
Meanwhile, Schutt has been one of the Red’s most dominant pitchers on the season, leading the team with 29 strikeouts in just 22.2 innings pitched. Opposing batters hit just .217 against the right-hander, and he has walked only six over his last four appearances. In his last start, he spun a nine inning, three hit, one run, 10-strikeout gem.
While Schutt, Sharfstein, and the rest of the pitching staff have been superb, the Red’s offense has only recently awoken from an early season slumber. Overall, the team is batting just .227, scoring just 47 runs in 13 games. However, the Red did collect 16 hits against Penn State, led by junior designated hitter Ned VanAllan’s 4-9, 3 RBI performance. VanAllan (.349, 0 HR 7 RBI), a transfer from Monroe Community College, is the team’s leader in several categories with 15 hits, four doubles, and 19 total bases.
In addition to leading the team in batting average, VanAllan also has a team-high .442 slugging average and is tied with freshman Matt Goodson with seven RBI. Only one other full-time player, junior third baseman Dan Parant (.302, 0, 6), has a batting average of over .300.
“I don’t pay attention to my stats. I just try to keep an even keel. I don’t want to get too high with the ups or too low with the lows. Coach Ford has helped me out a lot, and so has coming from a junior college where I got 150 bats the past two years,” said VanAllan about his early season offensive prowess. “After coming out of the turf room and starting to play games, it was a lot easier to see the ball. The ball just blew up basically. Got real big like a watermelon and I’ve been feasting on it.”
With Cornell playing better and better, the team is confident it will go into next weekend’s Ivy opener with a winning record, and is looking forward to its two game series with its cross-town rival.
“We feel like we should go over there and take two games. There’s no question. We feel very confident about this weekend,” commented VanAllan.
However, Ithaca presents a dangerous opponent despite playing in Division III. Nationally ranked for much of this season, Ithaca is led by talented sluggers Mike Pritts and Nick Pyzikiewicz on offense and bullpen ace Jon Beckerman.
A junior, Pritts leads Ithaca with two homeruns and is second with eight RBI, batting .385 through 10 games. Pyzikiewicz, a senior, has a team-high nine RBI and is third on the team with a .371 batting average in 10 starts. Meanwhile, Beckerman has already won three games in five relief appearances, fanning 15 batters while collecting a 3.32 ERA in 10.2 innings. Despite the Bombers’ talent, Cornell remains unfazed, determined to finish the weekend above .500.
“That’s definitely the goal,” said Sharfstein. “If we win two this weekend we go into league play above .500. I don’t know the last time we did that