March 2, 2007

Baseball, Softball Kick Off 2007 Season

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While most of the northeastern United States remains covered in snow from a series of winter storms, signs of summer are starting to emerge. This weekend, the baseball team will begin its season with a four-game series at Bucknell.

“We are all really excited to get out and play in a real game situation,” said sophomore Nathan Ford. “I think we should come out strong and put on a good show this weekend.”
[img_assist|nid=21809|title=Push off|desc=Junior Walker Toma, throwing a pitch against Princeton on March 28, will try to help the baseball team kick of its 2007 campaign against Bucknell this weekend with a win. (Robert Bonow / Sun Photo Editor)|link=popup|align=right|width=73|height=100]
The Bison (0-4) are winless in the young season, dropping a 10-2 decision to VMI and losing all three games of a series to No. 7 Virginia. Those games, however, were all played in the warmer Virginia climate — the forecast for this weekend in Philadelphia calls for temperatures in the mid-to-high 40s, which is hardly ideal baseball weather.

“You just got to go out there and play the game. You have to ignore the weather,” said junior Brian Kaufman. “You have to be as competitive as you would be in a normal Ivy League game. The cold weather might help the pitchers a little bit, but we will compete and try to score some runs.”

The games have been moved to La Salle University’s Hank DeVincent Field from Bucknell’s normal home in Lewisburg, Pa., as a result of recent storms that left Depew Field covered in snow. The Red and Bison will play a pair of double-headers, with the opening pitch scheduled for noon each day.

“Bucknell is a good team,” Kaufman said. “We have played them in the past and they have a pretty good pitching staff, and they held tough against a great Virginia team, so it will be a tough few games for us.”

The Bison offense struggled mightily in those first four games, scoring just four runs — including two shutouts at the hands of the mighty Cavaliers — and an anemic team batting average of .203. Junior catcher Shawn Hirsch leads the team with a .375 batting average in the young season, while senior Ryan Gryskevicz is batting .333 and has the team’s only home run.

The pitching staff has had greater success than the offense, however, turning in a respectable team ERA of 4.78. Senior Nathan Mittag and junior Mathew Wilson lead the staff, sporting twin ERAs of 1.50.

Two seasons after winning its first Ivy League Gehrig Division championship, Cornell returns 15 letter winners, including six starters and seven pitchers from last year’s team that finished 6-14 in the Ivy League and 10-29 overall.

Among the team’s top returnees is outfielder Brian Kaufman, who batted .325 as a sophomore, while leading the team in home runs (9), RBIs (38) and on-base percentage (.455). Kaufman is excited for the season to begin and looks forward to trying to improve on those impressive numbers.

“I just want to improve on everything from last season. I want to keep getting better and improve every facet of my game,” Kaufman said. “Over the years, I’ve learned that the Ivy League season is short so personal success does not mean as much as team success.”

Kaufman, who is locked-in as the starting centerfielder, leads an outfield that has been tagged as the team’s strength. With five returning players with plenty of experience, it’s not too difficult to see why. Head coach Tom Ford has a number of options in the corners, and he is likely to split playing time between four players.

Kaleb Hutchinson, the only senior position player on the roster, is a strong defensive outfielder. After a standout freshman year, Hutchinson struggled with injuries as a sophomore and had a disappointing junior campaign, batting just .165. Hutchinson, however, is back at 100 percent and is poised to play to the potential he showed as a freshman. Along with Hutchinson, junior Ry Kagan, and sophomores Domenic DiRicco and Kyle Groth comprise the Red’s outfield. After a successful rookie year in which he batted .247 with 16 RBIs, DiRicco is also primed for a breakout sophomore campaign.

The pitching staff is uncertain as of yet, and Ford will likely wait and see before making any final decisions. Seniors Jim Hyland — who was 2-2 with a 4.38 ERA last season — and Tom Laughlin will likely form the front end of the rotation. Eight other pitchers will vie for a spot in the starting rotation, with juniors Walker Toma and Bryce Klinesteker and senior Blake Hamilton the favorites to earn the nod.

“They’re going to compete. There are a lot of guys who have had a lot of success on the mound, whether its at Cornell, a summer team or in high school,” Kaufman said. “They’re all going to give it what they have and compete like hell. I think if they go out there with a little fire and keep the ball down they will be more than fine.”