April 30, 2007

Baseball Defeated Thrice by Princeton

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If nothing else, the baseball team showed its resiliency in the last series of the 2007 season this weekend. With the Gehrig division title and a postseason birth already out of reach after last Tuesday’s split with Penn, the baseball team ended its season by dropping three of four hard-fought contests against Princeton. The lone win for the Red (15-23, 8-12 Ivy) in the tail end of Sunday’s doubleheader was a meaningful one, however, as Cornell battled back from a three-run deficit to win a 5-4 thriller in the bottom of the 12th inning, eliminating the Tigers (15-23, 11-9) from contention for the division title in the process.
“All four games were pretty close,” said head coach Tom Ford. “We let them build an early lead in every game, then made a comeback but came up short in three of those games. But I was very happy for the guys to win the second game [on Sunday], it was rewarding for them.”
With Princeton needing a four-game sweep of the Red to tie Penn for the Gehrig division title, the Tigers achieved half of their goal on Saturday by taking both games of a doubleheader on their home field in Princeton, N.J. In Game 1, as would become a theme throughout the series, Princeton jumped out to an early 4-0 lead. Sophomore Kyle Groth hit his first home run of the 2007 season in the top of the fourth to cut the lead to three. After the two teams exchanged runs, Princeton broke open the game with two more runs in the sixth, making the score 7-2.
The Red foreshadowed the resiliency it would show throughout the series by refusing to give up, scratching across three runs in the seventh. Sophomore Scott Hardinger led off the inning with a walk and advanced to third on a double down the right field line by junior tri-captain Brian Kaufman. Classmate Ry Kagan then proceeded to line a triple into the left-center gap, scoring both runners.
Although Kagan eventually came home on a RBI groundout by sophomore Dominic DiRicco, the Red would be unable to muster any more offense, losing the contest, 7-5. Freshman Tony Bertucci took the loss for the Red, surrendering seven runs on nine hits and three walks.
In Game 2, the Tigers opened up an early lead again, scoring single runs in the first, third, fifth and seventh innings to take a 4-0 lead. The Red finally forced Princeton pitcher Steven Miller out in the top of the eighth, however, when he gave up two walks and a hit to open up the frame. With the bases loaded, sophomore Nathan Ford stroked a single to right to score DiRicco, Groth hit a deep sacrifice fly to left to score junior Jimmy Heinz and Hardinger lined a single into left to score freshman Justin Milo, making the score 4-3. Just as in Game 1, though, Cornell was unable to complete a full comeback, failing to score the game-tying run in the top of the ninth against Princeton closer Christian Staehely.
Although the scenery changed in the third game of the weekend series — with both teams traveling back to Ithaca on Sunday to play its second doubleheader — the results were very similar to the first two games. Princeton yet again jumped out to an early 5-2 lead after five innings, which was increased to 7-2 after seven.
“[Our offense] has been frustrating for a couple of weeks,” Ford said. “We couldn’t figure out a way to get guys out of slumps and we couldn’t find a way to come all the way back in those first three games; but we just kept battling anyways.”
Cornell struck back by scoring three quick runs, closing the gap on a three-run bomb by Milo. Yet once again, the squad could not find a way to push across the tying run.
“Justin hit the ground running for us this season,” Ford said. “We gave him a shot and he showed he belonged in the middle of our lineup by season’s end. He has a very good approach at the plate, and always goes up there with a plan.”
Senior Jim Hyland took the loss for Cornell in his final collegiate start, allowing six earned runs on 10 hits and three walks while striking out seven.
Offensively, DiRicco and Hardinger both had a pair of hits, while DiRicco drove in a pair to go along with Milo’s three RBI.
In the final game of the team’s 2007 campaign, the Red’s offense finally got it over the hump, winning the game in the 12th inning to keep the Tigers from capturing a tie for the division lead. Not surprisingly, Princeton took a 3-0 lead on a home run by Greg van Horn early in the contest.
The Red got all three runs back in the bottom of the third on a string of hits by Di Ricco, Milo, Ford and Hardinger. Once Princeton tacked on another run, Cornell responded with a solo shot by Milo in the sixth to even the score at 4-4. The game would remain deadlocked for six more innings before Cornell ended Princeton’s run by scratching across a run in the bottom of the 12th.
With one out, the Red loaded the bases on back-to-back hits by Heinz and Milo and an intentional walk to Nathan Ford. With the infield in, Kagan smoked the first pitch he saw into left-center, scoring Heinz and winning the game for Cornell.
“[Kagan] had a pretty good day yesterday and to see him drive that first pitch into the outfield felt good,” Ford said. “He’s had some big hits for us before, but it was good to see him come through again today.”
Although Kagan won the game, the unsung hero of the contest might have been senior Blake Hamilton, who pitched 5 1/3 innings of shutout baseball to preserve the tie and allow his team to complete the comeback. Hamilton allowed only four hits and no walks while striking out seven in his final collegiate game.
“I’m really happy for him,” Ford said. “He’s had his ups and downs through the years, but he really came through today. After getting out of a bases loaded jam [in the ninth] … he made quality pitch after quality pitch.”
Despite losing three contests to fall into the basement of the Gehrig division, Ford emphasized the character that his team showed in the final series of the 2007 season.
“I’m proud that these kids competed at all times,” he said. “Although we didn’t get the results we wanted, they just kept battling. To lose three close games in a row and then win the fourth in 12 innings says something about the character of this team — they never gave up.”