April 20, 2007

Baseball Travels to City for Ivy Contest

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The baseball team will travel to New York City this weekend to play its most critical series of the season, a four-game affair with Ivy rival Columbia. After dropping four straight Ivy League contests, the Red (12-16, 5-5 Ivy League) currently sits in a tie for second place in the Gehrig division, while the Lions (12-21, 7-9) are in the league’s cellar. However, with only three more weekends of regular-season play and just three games separating the best and worst teams, the Ivy championship is still very much up for grabs.
“It’s a critical weekend because we only have 10 conference games left,” said assistant coach Scott Marsh. “I think we need to win seven of those to have a good shot at [winning the division]. But we’re fully healthy and ready to go, so this is where we see what the team is really made of.”
Columbia has had a relatively inconsistent 2007 season.
[img_assist|nid=23044|title=Hurler|desc=Freshman pitcher Tony Bertuci and the Red will travel to New York City this weekend to compete against the Lions.|link=node|align=left|width=63|height=100]Although the team won three of four games from Gehrig Division leader Penn on March 24-25 and has prevailed over Princeton, Harvard and Dartmouth at times this season, the Lions have also lost eight out of their last 10 games heading into this weekend’s series.
Like so many other teams in college baseball, Columbia has no trouble scoring runs, but often struggles with preventing them. The team is led on offense by sophomore Ron Williams and senior Andrew Ward. Williams — who batted .326 in his freshman campaign — leads the team in most offensive categories including average (.362), hits (51), RBI (30), on-base percentage (.382) and stolen bases (five). Ward, who will be celebrated on tomorrow’s homecoming ceremonies as one of the team’s senior leaders, has launched three home runs and driven in 30 runners to go along with a .326 average in his final collegiate campaign.
“Columbia is a very scrappy team,” Marsh said. “We know they are going to put the ball in play so we need a solid defense to make them earn their runs.”
The pitching staff is bolstered by freshman reliever Clay Bartlett — who leads the team with 14 appearances and a 4.03 ERA — and junior Bill Purdy. Purdy led the team with 71 innings pitched a year ago and has already earned four victories on the mound this year, including two complete games, as well as a 4.82 ERA.
Cornell will counter with senior starting pitcher Jim Hyland in Game 1, junior Walker Toma in Game 2, freshman Tony Bertucci in Game 3 and classmate David Rochefort in Game 4. With the Red facing Penn in a rescheduled doubleheader on Tuesday afternoon in addition to this weekend’s games, the bullpen may play a large role in how team performs down the stretch.
“We have been getting some very productive innings out of our bullpen, particularly from [senior tri-captain] Blake Hamilton and [sophomore] Steve Osterer,” Marsh said. “They have been shutting down the other teams, so with six games in the next four days, the bullpen will get a lot more innings. Hopefully, they can keep up what they are doing.”
According to Marsh, one major key to this weekend’s games is the production from the middle of the Red lineup, most notably from tri-captains Brian Kaufman and Brant McKown. After leading the team in most offense categories last season and establishing their presence in the middle of the Cornell order, the two players have struggled somewhat this year, batting .248 and .187, respectively. Kaufman still paces the offense, however, with three home runs and 20 RBI.
“Having the guys in the middle of the lineup getting on base and driving in runs again will be a big key,” Marsh said. “McKwon and Kaufman were our leading hitters last year, so we need them to get going and step it up this weekend.”
After losing three of its past four Ivy League contests by two runs or less, the team understands the importance of coming through in key situations, something it has struggled to do as of late.
“The team knows what it needs to do,” Marsh said. “If we made one or two more plays in any of those three games, we could have won them. We’re just looking to play good, solid baseball no matter what the outcome.”