This might be the week that the baseball team’s new head coach, Bill Walkenbach ’98, experiences not one, but two significant life events. With his wife due to give birth last Friday, Walkenbach’s squad managed to sweep a doubleheader, 7-0 and 5-4, against the U.S. Naval Academy on Saturday for the Red’s first outing of 2009. The Red (1-0) made the trip to Annapolis, Md., to face an Ivy League caliber foe in the Midshipmen (1-2-1).
“We came out and played some of the best games we could,” said sophomore right fielder Mickey Brodsky. “We really stopped [Navy’s] offensive production the whole weekend.”
In Game 1, junior southpaw Matt Hill was a big part of that defensive excellence of Cornell — Hill gave up only two hits as he pitched seven innings of shutout ball. [img_assist|nid=35711|title=Now that’s an ace|desc=Junior lefty Matt Hill pitches an impressive start in the first game of the Red’s doubleheader, giving up only two hits in seven innings.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“He had really good stuff the other day and was particularly aggressive in the strike zone,” Marsh said. “It was kind of a cold day, and he got in on the hands of some of the Navy hitters and just did a real nice job of mixing pitches and attacking the strike zone and putting pressure on them. He was in command all day.”
Getting on the board early, the Red did the most damage in the fifth and sixth stanzas, nabbing three runs in each inning. Junior second baseman Matt Langseth, another transfer to Cornell along with the new head coach, scored the first run of the Red’s season.
The Red got on the board first in Game 2, as well, but Navy came back to tie it up at two in the bottom of the second. Each team crossed the plate twice in the fifth, but Langseth’s two-out RBI in the top of the sixth sealed the Game 2 win for the Red. As the one person even newer to Cornell than Walkenbach, Langseth was impressive in his Cornell debut.
“That’s one of the things that Coach Walk has been preaching,” Marsh said. “Those two out RBIs are backbreakers, and [Langseth] did a nice job of battling that and finally got a pitch that he could put out into the outfield.”
The Red’s timely hitting combined with solid pitching — lefty Brodsky came in to replace sophomore Taylor Wood and got the win in relief.
“Once we established that 5-4 lead, [Brodsky] came in and faced nine hitters in three innings and set them all down,” Marsh said. “He pitched three 1-2-3 innings, which was huge for us. We got the lead and protected it well and [junior righthander] David Rochefort, our closer this year, came in and struck out the side. We didn’t give them any hope that they were going to come back and win that game. That was the key for us. We were ahead, and we were going to stay ahead.”
As the Red’s pitching coach, Marsh has a special take on the performance of Wood, who started for the Red in Game 2.
“His line score was very deceptive, I thought,” Marsh said. “Taylor actually pitched very well [on Saturday], and he’s been pitching very well in our inter squads before the season started. He’s a kid that has developed probably more so than any pitcher I’ve had over the course of a year, from last year to this year.”
Wood gave up a two-run single from Navy’s Steven Soares in the bottom of the fifth and was taken out.
“[Wood] was unlucky to give up some of the runs he gave up,” Marsh said. “[But] he also attacked the strike zone. He didn’t walk anybody, and if we handle a ground ball a little better in the fifth inning, he would have gotten out of that with only giving up the two runs.”
“I thought it was a quality start for him, and we’re very encouraged,” he continued. “We expect to see that type of thing from him in the future.”
After running into some trouble in Game 2, Marsh was impressed at how the players were able to stay focused. Maybe that was due to the squad’s new mental attitude for 2009.
“I don’t know if the other guys felt this, but to me there was no panic at all,” Brodsky said. “It was more an understanding that [Navy] had come back … but we expected to win the game, which is different from [the mindset of] last year.”
Hill and Brodsky agreed that the Red had made huge strides in terms of maintaining its confidence. As opposed to a negative attitude that spread like cancer when the team was struggling, these wins have reinforced Cornell’s new outlook.
“We played extremely well as a team,” Hill said. “If one of our players made a bad play … in past years, the rest of the team would let that affect them. … This weekend, our team picked each other up.”
Navy and Cornell were supposed to play a doubleheader the next day, as well, but the games were cancelled due to inclement weather. The signs of bad weather coming were apparent on Saturday.
Hill’s arm felt better than he expected it would, but he was luckier than others. Some of the players were dressed only in short sleeves despite Saturday’s low temperatures.
“We’re used to playing in that [kind of] weather,” Hill said, “and I’m not sure if Navy is used to playing in that weather, being from Maryland. If we had played on Sunday when it was supposed to be snowing and in the 20s, that might have affected us.”