In its 2007 campaign, the baseball team hopes to return to the form that earned it the Ivy League Gehrig division championship in 2005. Although the squad lost five key seniors to graduation, including its two former co-captains in pitcher Rocky Collis — who was drafted in the 28th round of the Major League draft by the Seattle Mariners — and second baseman Seth Gordon, the Red returns a nucleus of talented young players and six members of its regular starting lineup. Cornell’s charge for another Gehrig Division title will be led by second team All-Ivy outfielder and tri-captain Brian Kaufman and 2005 All-Ivy honorable mention starting pitcher Jim Hyland.
“Our seniors last year as a group were great players, leaders and teammates,” Kaufman said. “We are definitely going to miss them, but we have a really good team this year and our goal is simply to win the Ivy League championship.”
Behind the plate, junior Adam Jacobs will handle the bulk of the work this season, replacing last year’s senior tandem of Matt Goodson and William Pauly. Jacobs has been a consistent contributor for the Red since his freshman year, when he played in 20 games — including 11 starts.
“Adam has all of the tools you look for in a catcher,” said head coach Tom Ford. “He has a strong throwing arm and a quick release as well as some pop on offense.”
At third base, sophomore Nathan Ford — who is also the starting quarterback on the Red football team — is coming off of a freshman season in which he started 19 games at the hot corner and accumulated a .290 average, fifth best on the team. The Red will count on Ford — who has great power to all fields — to hit cleanup and drive in runs on a consistent basis. He will also fill in at catcher when Jacobs is given the day off.
Sophomore Scott Hardinger will also enter the 2007 season with significant experience at shortstop, starting in all 39 games for the Red as a freshman. Although he only hit .216 last year, he was fourth on the team with 21 runs scored and played rock-solid defense up the middle, leading the team with 120 assists.
“He has outstanding range, a strong throwing arm and can steal same bags for us when he gets on base,” Ford said.
Junior Jimmy Heinz will move over from third base to replace Gordon as Hardinger’s double-play partner. Heinz started 22 games for Cornell at the hot corner a year ago, hitting .225 with 14 runs and six stolen bases. As a more natural middle infielder, according to Ford, Heinz should improve on his already solid defensive play.
“I think defensively, [Hardiner and Heinz] are one of the best double-play combinations in the Ivies,” Kaufman said.
After the departure of former first baseman Michael Weiss — who led the team with a .333 average last season — playing time will be split between juniors Ryan Michael and Ry Kagan and sophomore Kyle Groth. Kagan and Groth received the most action last year, starting in 11 games apiece while hitting .244 and .196, respectively. Michael — a transfer from De Anza College in Cupertino, Calif. — started nine games for the Red last year and had eight base hits, including a home run.
Kaufman will anchor the outfield in center for the third straight year. After starting every game and earning an All-Ivy honorable mention selection as a freshman, Kaufman proceeded to have an even better year as a sophomore. In 2006 he led the Red in virtually every offensive category, including on-base percentage (.455), slugging percentage (.557), runs (45), hits (45), home runs (nine), RBI (38), walks (32) and stolen bases (11).
“I will look for Brian to have another great year,” Ford said. “He’s got the rare mix of power and speed, and will play an important role in our success this season.”
In left field, sophomore Domenic Di Ricco returns for his second year as a starter. Di Ricco hit .247 with four doubles and 16 RBI last season while appearing in 33 games for the Red. Known for his gap power and outstanding discipline at the plate, he will bat leadoff for Cornell this season.
“I think Di Ricco has the ability to have a breakout season,” Ford said. “He had a decent year last year but has great potential. …He just needs to let his ability take over.”
Senior Kaleb Hutchinson will compete with Kagan and Groth for the right field job. Despite having all the tools to succeed, Hutchinson couldn’t quite put it all together last year, hitting .165 last season in 36 games — including 28 starts. As a result, the job is up for the grabs until one of the three asserts himself as a regular contributor.
Sophomore tri-captain Brant McKown returns for his second season as the regular designated hitter for Cornell. In 36 starts last year, McKown used his compact swing to hit .284 with a team-leading 13 doubles and 33 RBI —second only to Kaufman’s 38. McKown will be counted on to not only hold down a spot in the middle of the lineup for the Red but also lead the team as one of its tri-captains.
Hyland, who was firmly entrenched as the second starter for the Red last season, will now be expected to be ace of the staff in 2007. Last year, he had a 2-2 record and was second on the team with a 4.35 ERA in 39.1 innings pitched. As a sophomore, Hyland was an All-Ivy honorable mention pick as a reliever, going 3-0 with a save and a 2.16 ERA. He boasts an upper-80s fastball with good movement and a healthy assortment of breaking pitches — including a tight slider and a slow curveball.
Freshman Tony Bertucci will step in as the No. 2 starter for the club. He sports a live mid-80s fastball which he can command to either side of the plate as well as a good curveball.
Junior Walker Toma and senior Blake Hamilton will round out the rotation for the Red. Toma — a finesse pitcher who relies on good control and changing speeds — threw 37 innings last season with a 7.23 ERA. Hamilton — a southpaw with a live breaking ball — contributed 34.2 innings in 2006 with a 9.35 ERA and was third on the team with 35 strikeouts.
The bullpen will be anchored by senior tri-captain Tom Laughlin, who will be team’s closer in 2007. Laughlin started five games in addition to working out of the bullpen last season, striking out 14 batters in 22.2 innings of work to go along with a 5.56 ERA. The main pitches in his arsenal are a mid-80s fastball and a cutter.
“This is a hard-working team and a team in the truest sense of the word, as they support one another very well,” Ford said. “Offensively and defensively, I think we have a very good ball club, the big thing for us is pitching depth. I know we have the talent there, we just need to find the right combination of guys.”