April 28, 2006

Cornell Eyes Gehrig Title

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The baseball team’s quest for its second consecutive Gehrig division crown all comes down to four games, as the Red hosts Princeton in the first of home-and-home doubleheaders today at Hoy Field. The team will travel to Princeton on Sunday for its final two regular season games.

The Red (10-25, 6-10 Ivy) sit just one game behind Gehrig Division leader Princeton (12-22, 7-9), and will need to take three-of-four to capture the division and earn itself a chance at the Ivy championship.

“We talked a lot about this at the beginning of the season – about playing for something on the last weekend and certainly that’s what we’re doing,” said head coach Tom Ford. “We want to take full advantage of the opportunity.”

The situation should be a familiar one for both Princeton and Cornell, as the two teams found themselves playing for the Gerhig title on the last weekend of the 2005 campaign. The only difference between this year and last was that the 2005 instance saw the Red as the team with the one-game lead. Cornell split the series, taking the division crown and ending the Tigers’ string of nine consecutive division titles.

“The entire season comes down to four games for us and we need to win three of them,” said sophomore centerfielder Brian Kaufman.

Cornell will start its ace, senior co-captain Rocky Collis (3-2) in Game 1 this afternoon, and will hand to ball over to junior Blake Hamilton (1-4) in Game 2. Junior Jim Hyland (2-2) and freshman Chris Carls (1-3) will take the mound for Sunday’s doubleheader.

Cornell has taken three games in a four-game stretch only once this season, when it took a series from Penn – a team which split a four-game series against the Tigers last weekend, keeping the Red’s title hopes alive.

“The key is just to focus on what’s in front of us in Game 1,” Ford said. “You really can’t think too far beyond that first game because you then get worried about winning three games and it’s just not going to work for you.”

Princeton boasts arguably one of the best pitching staffs in the Ivy League, leading the Ancient Eight in ERA (4.19) and opponent batting average (.279). The Tiger hurlers have also combined to strike out 217 batters, good for second-best in the Ivies.

“They always pitch well,” Ford said. “They don’t beat themselves. They don’t walk too many people. They attack the strike zone, so we’ve got to be aggressive at the plate.”

While the Tiger pitchers have shined, the offense has been a bit more lackluster. Princeton is tied with Dartmouth for the fewest runs scored in the Ivy League (176), but has started to break out of its shell in recent games, pounding out 20 hits in a 14-2 win over Penn last Sunday.

“Their bats are starting to warm up,” Ford said. “They usually have a lineup that has some pop in it.”

Much of Princeton’s pop has come from its center fielder, Andrew Salini, who is hitting .315 on the season and leads the Tigers with 33 RBIs and 26 runs.

Cornell will counter with a lineup that boasts one of the best leadoff combinations in the Ivies, with senior co-captain Seth Gordon hitting at the top of the lineup in front of Kaufman in the No. 2 spot. Kaufman and Gordon are No. 1 and 2 in the Ivies with 26 and 22 walks, respectively. Kaufman also leads the Ivies in runs (43), triples (6) and is second in on-base percentage (.461).

The Red’s offense has also been boosted by several of the team’s veterans finding their grooves. Senior catcher William Pauly is hitting .347 on the season, while classmate Michael Weiss has proven to be one of the best situational hitters in the Ivies, leading the league in runners advanced (18).

“We’re going to try to be aggressive at the plate but we’re going to stay within our zone,” Kaufman said. “We’re going to make the pitchers throw to us and when they make mistakes, we’re going to capitalize on them.”

Archived article by Paul Testa
Sun Assistant Sports Editor