April 29, 2005

Baseball Goes for Gehrig Title at Princeton

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Since its last Ivy League championship in 1977, the baseball team has been condemned to the role of the Greek legend Sisyphus — eternally pushing a boulder up a hill only to see it fall back down again and again. This season, however, the decades-old curse may crumble to pieces.

Today, Cornell will travel to Clarke Field in Princeton, N.J., for a doubleheader against the defending Ivy League champion Tigers before returning to Ithaca on Sunday for a second pair of games at Hoy Field. Should the Red win at least twice in the four-game showdown, it would capture its first Gehrig Division title in program history. Princeton has won the last nine consecutive Gehrig Division championships.

The eventual Gehrig champion would then play the Red Rolfe Division champion for the Ivy crown.

“We’re excited to have the opportunity to still be in it,” said Cornell head coach Tom Ford. “But we realistically know our work is still cut out for us. We have to approach this series like it is just another weekend.”

After sweeping Penn last weekend, Cornell (15-18, 9-7 Ivy) is riding a five-game league winning streak and is 8-2 in its last 10 Ivy contests. Conversely, Princeton (14-22, 8-8 Ivy) is just 4-6 in its previous 10 league outings and has won only once in its last six games. The Tigers, who have won six of the previous eight meetings with Cornell, need three victories this weekend to eclipse the first-place Red and clinch the division.

For this historic series, Cornell will send its proven competitors to the mound against Princeton’s power-hitting lineup. Senior Tad Bardenwerper — today’s game one starter — will try to pick up exactly where he left off last Saturday against the Quakers, when the lefty came only two outs short of tossing Cornell’s first no-hitter in 16 years. The Red’s most durable starter, Bardenwerper (3-3) has posted a 4.74 season ERA and leads the staff in innings pitched with 43 1/3. He will square off against Princeton sophomore Gavin Fabian (2-4), a right-hander with a 4.38 ERA.

In today’s nightcap, Red senior hurler Dan Gala (3-2) will battle Tigers’ rookie Christian Staehely (0-4). Gala returns to the game two starter’s spot after baffling Penn’s hitters during his seven-hit, one-run complete game last Saturday. The right-hander leads all Cornell starters with a 2.85 ERA in seven season appearances.

Sunday’s opener will match up two of the hardest-throwing warriors in the league — Cornell’s Rocky Collis (2-3) and Princeton’s Erik Stiller (6-1). Collis completed Cornell’s trifecta of complete games last Sunday, scattering five hits and striking out nine in seven innings of work. Stiller leads the Tigers in ERA (2.61), strikeouts (45) and victories (six). The final game of the series on Sunday will pit Cornell sophomore Blake Hamilton (0-3, 3.94 ERA) against Princeton sophomore Eric Walz (1-2, 5.68 ERA).

“As always, we certainly respect who we are playing — especially these guys,” Ford said. “They are a very sound, fundamental baseball team and usually, they pitch very well. We have to be prepared to shut them down.”

The Tigers also field some of the Ivy League’s most fearsome hitters, including junior Andrew Salini and senior Will Venable. Salini, a right fielder out of Andover, Mass., has started every game for the Tigers and leads the squad in batting average (.398), hits (53) and RBIs (26). Venable is tied for the team lead in homeruns with seven and is tops on the Tigers in slugging percentage with a .608 mark.

Cornell is hoping to return to its winning ways after dropping a pair of close games to non-league opponent Siena on Tuesday. Despite a 2-for-4, two-run scoring performance by senior shortstop Matt Miller at the plate in the second game, the Red couldn’t fend off the Saints in the 10 inning, 5-4 defeat.

“We were disappointed with the losses [to Siena],” Ford said. “But, our team is a pretty resilient team — I don’t think those games will affect our mindset [against Princeton].”

For Cornell’s seniors, three losses to the Tigers would spell the end of their Ivy careers. Ford expects his upperclass leaders to set the right example of intensity and focus during this all-important league series.

“It would be nice to see [the seniors] all step up and have career weekends,” he said. “This is why you work hard all year — for a chance to win the division.”

Game one today is slated to begin at 12 p.m. with the second game commencing at 2:30 p.m. The forecast for Princeton predicts a 60 percent chance of rain later in the day.

Archived article by Kyle Sheahen
Sun Senior Editor