March 14, 2008

Baseball Bets on Batting Resurgence in Florida

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As Cornell students embark on Spring Break and flock to sun-drenched beaches and swaying palm trees, the baseball team will do likewise. However, their fun in the sun will occur on the diamond against Penn St. and Pittsburgh in the Papa John’s Palm Beach Classic held in West Palm Beach, Fla. After opening up this week-long tournament Sunday, the Red will also tangle with University of Miami, Long Island University and New Jersey Institute of Technology throughout the week.
On Sunday morning, the Red (2-4, 0-0 Ivy) will battle Penn St. (3-8, 0-0 Big Ten) in the first game of a doubleheader.
Freshman right-handed pitching sensation Corey Pappel will take the hill in the opening game for the Red. Pappel, the Ivy League’s Rookie of the Week in each of the first two weeks of the season, is coming off of two impressive outings in which he hurled a combined 12 innings of five-hit ball and fanned 12 batters while only walking two. He has yet to allow an extra-base hit this season.
“Obviously, in two starts, he’s had two great outings,” said head coach Tom Ford. “So far it’s been something we’ve kind of expected when he goes out there. He’s got to attack the zone and attack the hitters. He sets a good tempo for the team. He pitches quickly and doesn’t take a lot of time in between pitches. Obviously, Corey combines that with good stuff. He just does a nice job for us. He’s got good velocity and movement on his fastball. He attacks hitters and goes right at them. That’s what we like out of our pitchers.”[img_assist|nid=28841|title=Coming in for a landing|desc=The baseball team will spend Spring Break in Florida.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
The Nittany Lions are paced by senior outfielder Brian Ernst’s .366 batting average at the dish. Penn St., however, is currently in the midst of a four-game losing streak.
Similarly, Pittsburgh, the Red’s second opponent in Sunday’s twinbill, is looking to snap a four-game skid. The Panthers (3-7, 0-0 Big East) are coming off of an 8-2 drubbing to No. 20 Central Florida last Tuesday.
Sophomore southpaw and Pittsburgh native Matt Hill will toe the rubber for Cornell against the Panthers. Senior tri-captain Adam Jacobs is confident that the crafty lefty will lead the Red to victory.
“He’s kind of like a funky lefty pitcher,” Jacobs said. “He throws around the mid-80s — 84 to 86 miles per hour — and he has kind of a herky-jerky motion, which is very deceptive for a pitcher. He also hides the ball well, which helps him a lot. His fastball tails away from right-handed batters, which is pretty tough to hit. His favorite out pitch is his splitter, which is pretty much unhittable. He only throws it maybe five times a game, but it gets in the other team’s head and they never know when it’s coming. He goes out there and competes too. Even if he doesn’t have his stuff, he’s out there battling his [butt] off.”
Offensively, Pittsburgh has four hitters eclipsing the .300 mark, as sophomore shortstop Danny Lopez and senior outfielder Sean Conley share the team lead with two home runs each.
Unfortunately for Cornell, the team has failed to match the Panthers’ offensive prowess in the early campaign. The baseball axiom that pitchers are traditionally ahead of the hitters early in the season is evident so far with the Red. After six non-conference games, the Red is struggling to keep it’s .204 team batting average above the Mendoza Line and has mustered only one dinger. However, Ford cannot attribute the offensive woes to one specific area at the plate.
“It’s kind of an individual thing,” he said. “The whole team isn’t necessarily doing one thing wrong at the plate or one thing good at the plate, but that has been a focus for us this week. Obviously, we have to swing the bat better and produce more runs. If someone like Corey is going to go out there and just give up one [unearned] run, we got to be able to come up with two or three runs. … It’s a tough sport to play if you’re not creating some offense for yourself.”
Perhaps, the warm weather in the Sunshine State will help heat up Cornell’s cold bats. In the meantime, the change in scenery should not hamper the team’s preparation or attention to detail.
“We have a game every single day, except for the last Saturday, so there’s not going to be too much down time,” Jacobs said. “But, we have a couple big dinners planned and I’m sure guys will find time to get out and relax on the beach or by the pool or something. We’ll have some time to relax, but we’re there to play baseball.”