April 10, 2007

Red Faces Binghamton

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After splitting a four-game Ivy League road trip this past weekend to maintain a percentage points lead in the Gehrig Division race, the baseball team will return home today to play local rival Binghamton in a doubleheader at Hoy Field. According to head coach Tom Ford, junior Bryce Klinesteker — who has allowed a combined nine runs in two starts this year — will get the nod to start Game 1 at 2:30 p.m., while the impending cold weather threatens to postpone Game 2, scheduled for 5 p.m.
“[This past weekend], to put it simply, we had one good day and one bad day,” Ford said. “We came out and played very well against Brown … but yesterday [against Harvard] wasn’t one of our better performances and when you do that against a good team, you will often lose two games. … Bryce will start the first game; hopefully he will find his rhythm and get his feet on the ground after a couple of rough outings.”
The Bearcats (10-8, 4-0 America East) have recovered from a slow start against non-conference opponents to assert themselves as a team to be reckoned with, most recently sweeping a four-game series with conference rival Albany last weekend. Furthermore, the squad won a program-best 27 games in 2006 and head coach Tim Sinicki was named America East Coach of the Year in 2005.
The team packs a lethal offensive punch led by seniors Brendon Hitchcock and Matt Simek. Hitchcock — who received first team All-American East honors last season and hit .399 as a sophomore to earn the team MVP award — is putting together his best collegiate season yet. The senior leads Binghamton in batting average (.453), hits (29), runs (12), total bases (42), slugging percentage (.656), walks (12) and on-base-percentage (.526).Classmate Matt Simek has also proven himself to be a dangerous power-speed threat with two home runs, a team-leading 15 RBI and seven stolen bases in eight attempts. The Bearcats boast many other legitimate offensive threats, however, as six of the nine starters are currently batting at least .293, all nine starters have at least two extra-base hits and seven players have swatted at least one home run so far this season.
Binghamton’s pitching staff is much more top-heavy than its offense, with senior Mike Van Gorder and sophomore Jeff Dennis providing a devastating one-two punch to headline the staff. Van Gorder leads the team with three wins in five starts and a 1.71 ERA while Dennis boasts a 2.66 ERA and a team-leading 20 strikeouts.
The Red (11-14, 5-3 Ivy) has overcome inconsistent pitching to maintain a slim lead in the Ivy League standings this season, mainly because of solid defense and clutch hitting. The team’s offense is paced by sophomore Nathan Ford, who has been a consistent force in the middle of the lineup for the entire 2007 season.
“Nathan swung the bat well for us last year but is much shorter to the ball this season and is consistently putting the ball in play hard,” Ford said. “I think [being the quarterback of the football team] has helped him as a baseball player because everyone was always looking at him as a quarterback just like everyone is focused on him as a hitter. … He’s a real good competitor and is even-keeled.”
Due mainly to a hot streak last weekend, junior Jimmy Heinz — who bats in the No. 2 slot in the Cornell lineup — has also asserted himself as an offensive threat. Heinz is currently second on the team with a .327 average and is tied for the team lead with three home runs and 19 RBI. He cracked two home runs last weekend, including a grand slam to help the Red to a sweep against Ivy rival Dartmouth.
“To be honest, Heinz feels much more comfortable at second base and I think that carries over to the plate,” Ford said. “He played third base last year and just didn’t feel comfortable. But now he’s confident and relaxed.”
Ford also related that he is content with how his team has played so far this year.
“Even though we got beat in two games yesterday, we’re at least where we want to be,” he said. “We’ve had one bad day in four Ivy League series, so although I’m not completely satisfied, I’m very pleased with the team’s effort. … We need to get back to playing confidently.”