The forecast is bleak but Cornell’s baseball team hopes the weather improves enough for it to begin its Ivy League season against Yale (8-10) and Brown (5-15-1) this weekend at Hoy Field. The Red (6-7) has not played in close to two weeks, sweeping Big Ten opponent Penn State, 4-3 and 5-2, in its most recent series on March 25.
The two wins against the Nittany Lions extended the Red’s winning streak to five games, and Cornell remains guardedly optimistic about its chances to open up Ivy League play successfully despite its inactivity over the past 10 days.
“I think that with any layoff you’re going to get concerned about coming out and playing poorly, but practice has been going really well lately. We’re definitely excited about coming out and continuing our win streak this weekend,” said junior pitcher Chris Schutt.
If the Red is to emerge from this weekend’s two doubleheaders with its streak intact and its record above .500 for the first time this season, Cornell will need its offense to continue its recent surge. After its first eight games, the team was hitting just .172, but the Red has batted .281 during its current winning streak to elevate its batting average to a still unsightly .227.
“We’re finally starting to hit,” said junior designated hitter Ned VanAllan. “From the top to the bottom of the order, everybody is starting to swing the bat better. We’re just trying to improve one at-bat at a time, and we’re not getting down when we don’t get hits. We’ve just got to keep plugging away.”
Despite the team’s recent improvement on offense, only two full-time starters bat over .300, with VanAllan batting a team-best .349. VanAllan, a transfer from Monroe Community College, also leads the team with a .442 slugging average, 19 total bases, and 15 hits. He is also tied with freshman catcher Matt Goodson with a team high seven RBI.
“Ned works very hard at becoming a better hitter,” said head coach Tom Ford. “He stays late for extra hitting and is always doing a lot of tee work to make his swing better. It’s just nice to see his hard work and aggressiveness pay off. He’s been our most consistent batter all season, and he’s been able to come through for us late in games with big hits to help us win games.”
Although VanAllan has been one of the few Cornell hitters to meet with success consistently, the team’s pitching staff has been stellar throughout the season, compiling a 4.29 ERA. Cornell’s pitchers have been even better during the win streak, posting a sparkling 2.54 ERA while limiting opposing teams to a .237 batting average. The trio of juniors Schutt, Dan Baysinger, Dan Gala, and senior Dave Sharfstein will take the mound this weekend. Schutt and Gala have been particularly impressive during the non-conference season, combining for three of the team’s six victories. Gala (2-1) has walked just one batter and limited opponents to just two earned runs in 18 innings while Schutt (1-2, 1 save) leads the team with 29 strikeouts and 22 2/3 innings pitched, owning a solid 3.18 ERA.
“I think I’m just a more mature pitcher this season,” said Schutt about his success. “I’m not trying to overpitch like I was last year. I’ve been focused on hitting my spots with pitches and letting the defense do its job to help me out.”
While Cornell enters the Ivy season playing its best baseball of the season, Yale and Brown have struggled of late. The Bulldogs (8-10) have played better than expected this year after a 12-27 finish in 2002, but they head into tomorrow’s doubleheader with the Red having dropped three out of their last four games.
Meanwhile, Brown (5-15-1) was the only Ivy team to finish above .500 last season at 25-24, but the Bears have endured a miserable start to the 2003 campaign. Predicted to finish second in the Ivy League by Collegiate Baseball this season, the Bears have dropped eight of their last 11 heading into league play.
Though the Elis and Bears enter Ivy play struggling, Cornell expects a hard-fought series.
“We’ve done a good job at improving our intensity and confidence over our winning streak, but everyone in the Ivies is on an even playing field for the most part. From what I know, Yale has played pretty well this season and Brown is a pretty good team despite its record, so I think they’ll all be close games this weekend,” said VanAllan.
All-Ivy centerfielder Chris Elkins leads the surprising Elis, leading the team with six doubles, 17 runs scored, and 15 RBI. In addition to his team-leading seven stolen bases, Elkins is also hitting .351. As a team, the Bulldogs carry a .281 batting average and score five runs per game. Additionally, Yale’s pitching has been very strong, allowing under four runs per game. Sophomore right-hander Josh Sowers leads the pitching staff with a 3-1 record, while sophomore southpaw Mike Elias has added two wins and a 2.38 ERA in 22 2/3 innings.
Conversely, Brown’s pitching staff has been the primary reason for the Bears’ struggles. The team’s ERA is 5.55, with only reliever Dan Spring having an ERA under three in just over 15 innings. The team’s best starter has been Joel DeMaria, but he has amassed just a 1-3 record and 4.55 ERA in 31 2/3 innings.
The Bears’ offense has been slightly better, batting .272 on the year, with third baseman Jeff Nichols leading the team at .343. In addition to Nichols, outfielder Matt Kutler is one of the Bears’ primary offensive threats. The speedy senior has stolen four bases and has driven in a team -leading 13 runs on the season to go with a .321 batting average. However, Brown averages just over four runs per game.
Archived article by Mark Fetzko