February 29, 2008

Baseball Takes On ACC Foe

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The baseball team will escape the harsh, cold Ithaca weather this weekend as the squad enjoys the warmth of the sunny south. Cornell will open up its regular season with two non-conference opponents, Siena and No. 16 nationally-ranked Virginia in Charlottesville, Va. The Red will face Siena this afternoon followed by a contest against Virginia on Saturday. Cornell will square off against the same two teams in a twin bill on Sunday.
“As a team, we’ve been playing inside since Feb. 1,” said junior leftfielder Domenic Di Ricco. “We’re just excited to have an opportunity to play someone else instead of each other. It’s something we’ve been looking forward to and preparing for the whole year.”
The excitement is palpable throughout the entire clubhouse, as senior co-captain Adam Jacobs echoes his teammate’s sentiments.
“We’re thrilled we get to play in the same dugout finally,” Jacobs said. “With inter-squad games we split up the team, so it will be nice to have everyone on the team in the same dugout pulling for each other. If we play our game of good pitching and good defense, we should be fine.”
The Siena Saints (0-3, 0-0 MAAC) dropped three consecutive road contests in their season-opening series against Florida last weekend. Offensively, they are led by senior designated hitter Chris Klepps, who collected four hits in 10 at-bats, highlighted by a home run and three runs scored against the Gators.
“We try not to look too much at the record of the opponent,” Di Ricco said. “[Siena] opened up with Florida, which is a quality team. Besides that, when we face Siena, we’re looking at it as an opportunity to be outside and play rather than necessarily focusing on its record. We don’t care who we play first, we just want to play.”
Freshman hurler Corey Pappel will get the opening game assignment for the Red in today’s contest. Jacobs is confident the 6-6, 210 pound right-hander has a polished repertoire to get hitters out.
“We’ve got Cory Pappel, who’s a freshman that’s going to start for us this weekend,” Jacobs said. “He has pretty electric stuff. He has a fastball that clocks at about 86-88 [mph] with a lot of movement. He works the inside corner well on righties. And his curveball is pretty good, but his other best pitch is his change-up.”
Tomorrow the Red plays another afternoon contest against the Virginia Cavaliers (5-0, 0-0 ACC), a formidable ACC powerhouse. Senior right-handed pitcher Walker Toma will make his season debut on the mound against the Cavaliers.
“I’m excited to play [UVA],” Toma said. “I think that they are probably the best team that I am going to face since coming here. It will be interesting to see how we respond to a team like that. I need at least two pitches working to be effective, and I just need to be able to locate. We have all of our returning starters back on defense. I think we’re pretty good in the field. I’m not worried about any defensive aspects. It’s more about my ability to get the hitters out.”
Toma enjoyed a share of the team lead for victories as he compiled a 4-4 record and 6.04 ERA. The crafty Berkeley, Calif. native is counted on to anchor Cornell’s pitching staff this season.
“Walker Toma has the wit and the ingenuity,” Jacobs said. “He’s a very smart pitcher out there on the mound and he has been very successful in the past.”
On Sunday, the Red will play a doubleheader in which they tangle with Siena at 11 a.m. and Virginia at 3 p.m. According to Di Ricco and Jacobs, Cornell must enter the weekend with a defensive mindset in order to win.
“It’s just execution,” Di Ricco said. “That means getting the bunt down when we need it and just focusing if we’re turning two. It’s just picking each other up and things like that. We have to execute every little bit. We finished last season with one of the best defenses in the country and we hope we can continue to improve on that from last year.”
“Our strength is probably our pitching right now to be honest, as well as our defense,” Jacobs said. “Hitting, you never know. We’ve been hitting pretty well in the turf room, but it’s a completely different game when you’re out there on the field. Pitching and defense, though, are probably our strengths at this moment.”