March 26, 2007

Baseball and Softball Hit the Road Over Break

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The baseball team failed to heat up with the weather this past week, as the Red — who had won two out of its last three games heading into the break — failed to keep its momentum going by dropping six out of nine contests on its Spring Break road trip.

“We played some very good games; unfortunately we only won three of them,” said head coach Tom Ford. “One bright spot is our defense, which played very well but our pitching was inconsistent and our hitters got a little out of sync towards the end.”

[img_assist|nid=22245|title=Extend and release.|desc=Junior Walker Toma and the baseball team struggled on its Spring Break road trip to North Carolina, losing six of its nine contests to non-conference foes.|link=node|align=left|width=100|height=87]

Initially, things looked promising for Cornell (6-10), as the team pulled out both ends of a doubleheader in Davidson, N.C. on March 17 — a 7-6 victory over Lehigh (3-8-1) and an 8-6 win over Davidson (12-9). The squad’s good fortune ended there, however, as the Red proceeded to lose four in a row, and six out of its last seven games.

In its first game against Lehigh, freshman pitcher Tony Bertucci was knocked out of the game after five innings with his team trailing 5-2. Yet, sophomore Steven Osterer pitched four innings of two-hit relief to pick up the first victory of his career and give Cornell its third win in four games. Junior tri-captain Brian Kaufman continued his torrid stretch by going 3-for-4 with three runs and two RBI, including the game-winning two-run home run in the top of the ninth.

In the second game of the doubleheader, the Red jumped out to an early 7-0 lead after three innings and hung on late in the contest to beat Davidson, 8-6. After tallying one run in the first, Kaufman launched his second home run of the day — another two-run blast to right-center — to cap a three-run second. Junior Toma Walker picked up his second win on the year by throwing 5 2/3 innings while giving up only six hits and two earned runs. Junior Bryce Klinestecker earned a save with a perfect ninth inning to close out the game.

The Wildcats struck back the next day, however, taking down the Red, 7-5, in another late-inning thriller. Despite a great offensive output — led by sophomore shortstop Scott Hardinger’s three hits and home runs by junior Adam Jacobs and senior Kaleb Hutchinson — inconsistent pitching doomed the Red for its first loss of the road trip.

This would be a theme in Cornell’s next game too, as the Red — despite collecting 20 hits — dropped a 13-12 extra-inning heartbreaker at UNC-Greensboro (11-9) two days later. The men started off the contest hot, abusing Spartan pitchers up and down the order to take a commanding 12-4 lead through four innings. Yet, UNC-Greensboro would not quit, silencing Red hitters the rest of the afternoon while scoring three runs in the fifth, two in the seventh, three more in the ninth to tie the game and finally one in the 10th to win it.

Eight of the nine Cornell starters collected at least two hits in the game while Jacobs led the way with two hits, a grand slam, three runs and seven RBI.

“The biggest problem with our pitching is just throwing strikes,” Ford said. “I think we had over 10 walks in [the UNC-Greensboro] game; we just need to pitch aggressively and attack the strike zone, and I’m confident our pitchers will turn it around.”

The Red players didn’t bring their hitting shoes to the next game against the Spartans, however, as Cornell produced a season-low four hits to fall, 7-2. Freshman Tony Bertucci took his first loss of the year by pitching 3 1/3 innings and surrendering four earned runs on six hits and two walks.

In its final game in North Carolina, Cornell dropped its fourth consecutive game to North Carolina A&T (5-14), 8-5. The Red collected only three hits in the contest and four of its five runs were unearned due to a pair of Aggie errors. Kaufman smacked his third home run of the road trip — a three-run bomb to center — while freshman Steven Dannaway reached base all four times he stepped to the plate, had two of the Red’s three hits and his first collegiate RBI. Toma surrendered eight earned runs on seven hits to take the loss.

The team returned to form back in New York, splitting a doubleheader against Army (8-9) on March 24. In the first game, the Red snapped its four-game losing streak behind a strong pitching performance from senior Jimmy Hyland. Cornell squeezed across two runs in the third on one hit and three walks and that was all the senior would need. Hyland carved up Army hitters with seven shutout innings, yielding only four hits and one walk while striking out four to earn his second win of the year.

The Black Knights responded by taking the second game, 3-2, in 10 innings. After leaving the winning run stranded on third base with two outs in the top of the ninth, the Red lost when senior Blake Hamilton’s attempted throw to second to start a double play sailed into center, allowing the winning run to cross home plate.

“Eventually we’re going to win these close games,” Ford said. “We just had a lot of leads and couldn’t hold them. Part of that is because when you play almost everyday you can’t line up your bullpen like you would want; during Ivy league play it will be much easier to do that.”

Cornell finished up its road trip by dropping a 16-5 decision to Army yesterday. The Black Knights jumped all over Klinestecker in the first inning, registering seven runs before the junior starter registered a single out; it was a lead they would never relinquish. Sophomore Nathan Ford led the offense with two hits, a run and an RBI.

“I think we can wipe the slate clean for the Ivy League season,” Kaufman said. “The most important thing for us is always the Ivy League schedule; those are the games that really count.”