Beating a heated rival in the final game of the season is like the cherry on top of a great season, giving a team the momentum that pushes it into postseason success. Though the baseball team doesn’t have a shot at this season’s title, the Cornell-Princeton matchup — which traditionally closes out the Ivy League season — usually has some drama to it, and this weekend’s home-and-home series is no different.
“We consider them our rivals,” said senior Brian Kaufman. “They’re our travel partners. We’ve always played them the last weekend. We’ve [even] had the opportunity to play them for the championship.”
When the Red and the Tigers play a doubleheader at Hoy Field this afternoon and then travel to Princeton, N.J. for a doubleheader on Sunday, the results may still have bearing on the 2008 Gehrig Division standings.[img_assist|nid=30220|title=Swing for the fences|desc=Senior Brian Kaufman (3) takes a swing during the Red’s face-off with Brown on April 1, 2007.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Princeton is in a must-win situation, while Cornell has nothing to play for but pride. This situation, however, is not unfamiliar territory for the Red.
“Obviously we’re not in contention for the division championship, but we still want to … win as many games as we can,” said senior co-captain Adam Jacobs. “Plus we have a chance to spoil Princeton’s chance to win the division … again.”
In 2007, the Red finished 8-12 in the Ancient Eight — last place in the Gehrig Division. The Tigers won three-of-four in last season’s meetings, but the Red still managed to steal Princeton’s thunder.
In the final game of the 2007 season, then-junior Ry Kagan’s RBI single in the bottom of the 12th inning gave the Red a 5-4 win. With that one loss, Princeton ceded the division championship to Penn.
Senior hurler Walker Toma started in that victory, giving up four runs and striking out seven over the first 6 2/3 innings.
“There are some great athletes [on Princeton],” Toma said. “They’re the best team, whether they get it together or not. I’d say they’re the best competition in the Ivy League year-in and year-out.”
This year, however, history is repeating itself. Cornell is now 5-11 in Ivy play (11-24 overall) and once again has a shot to play the spoiler role for Ivy foe Princeton (16-21, 8-8 Ivy), No. 2 in the Gehrig Division behind Columbia (16-24, 11-5).
It was not too long ago, however, that the Red was in Princeton’s position.
“Typically, it comes down to us and Princeton almost every year,” Jacobs said.
With a split against Princeton in 2005, the Red clinched the Gehrig Division title, though the team went on to lose to Harvard in the championship game. This year’s group of seniors is the last class to carry on the postseason experience of that year. The eight-man senior class will be honored between games in today’s Senior Day doubleheader.
“For the seniors, we’d like to … end our careers on a positive note,” Kaufman said. “This is the last class that will have tasted the championship. We just want to go out and play hard, and for the rest of the team, it sets the tone for next year.”
For some members of the team, however, this weekend is the last chance to solidify a place among the Cornell greats, or simply to get the opportunity to play.
Though Kaufman struggled in the first half of the season, for example, he has tallied four homers over the last seven games, two of them grand slams. He now has 19 career home runs — two home runs short of the all-time Cornell record held by Gary Kaczor and Bill Walkenbach.
Kaufman, however, plans to focus on the game itself this weekend, as opposed to the swinging for the record books.
“We just want to go out there and have an absolute blast,” he said.
As underclassmen fill the starting role in the first three games — with freshman Corey Pappel and sophomores Matt Hill and Tony Bertucci starting in Games 1, 2 and 3, respectively — the senior Toma will attempt to finish his collegiate career on top, once again taking the mound in the final game of the season.
“My goal is to pitch a complete-game shutout and not get taken out of the game, because it’s my last game as a baseball player [at Cornell],” Toma said.