April 17, 2009

Baseball Looks to Make Statement in Twin Bills vs. Columbia

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It is do or die time for the Red. The baseball squad approaches a crossroads this season and must now demonstrate it is prepared to take its place among the league’s elite. Cornell, Princeton and Columbia all share the top perch in the Gehrig Division with identical 5-7 records. This weekend the Red will travel to the Lions’ den at Robertson Field in New York City and play back-to-back doubleheaders tomorrow and Sunday.
Cornell (9-17, 5-7 Ivy) enters the series with momentum. It is riding a three-game winning streak, its longest of the season, and captured five of its last six outings. Conversely, Columbia (9-24, 5-7 Ivy) is coming off of a disappointing road trip at Princeton, where the Lions dropped three of four games.[img_assist|nid=36952|title=I don’t think you can handle this|desc=The Red hopes to pull away from the rest of the field in the Ivy League Gehrig Division with a strong showing against Columbia this weekend.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“The mindset is that we expect four very challenging games,” said head coach Bill Walkenbach ’98. “Columbia is a very scrappy and opportunistic team that does a great job of taking advantage of opponents’ mistakes. They’re well-coached and they do the little things well that make teams good. We know that we’re going to have to play mistake-free baseball in order to have a good chance at winning the games.”
The Red found itself in a similar position in the middle of last season when it squared off against Columbia. After capturing three out of four games against Penn, Cornell was on the verge of competing for a division title. However, Columbia erased any hope the Red had in 2008, prevailing in three out of four games at Hoy Field. The circumstances may be similar this season, but the Red is expecting a more favorable outcome this time around.
“Last year … we had a chance [to win the division] against Columbia and they basically ended our season,” said sophomore cleanup hitter Mickey Brodsky. “This year it just seems that everything has gone right for us. We struggled against the other division and we needed some teams to lose and they ended up losing. Then, we needed Princeton to take a few games from Columbia and it worked out. The feeling on the team right now is that this was meant to be. There’s something going on with this team where we are peaking right at the right moment heading into these last few games and we control our own destiny. We all know that if we win these next two series, then we are right where we want to be.”
Tomorrow, a pair of sophomore right-handed pitchers will take the mound for Cornell: Jadd Schmeltzer in the opener and Corey Pappel in the nightcap. Schmeltzer leads the Ancient Eight with a 3.20 ERA while limiting opposing hitters to a .234 average. Brodsky and junior right-handed pitcher Tony Bertucci are scheduled to toe the rubber for Cornell on Sunday.
Pappel will take junior lefty Matt Hill’s turn in the Red’s rotation. Last weekend, in relief of Hill, Pappel blanked Penn over six innings after Hill was touched for five earned runs and eight hits in three innings.
Senior third baseman Nathan Ford’s .379 clip tops the team and is places him fourth among all Ivy League hitters. Freshman right fielder Brian Billigen has also displayed some pop from the leadoff spot after replacing his injured classmate Frank Hager. Billigen, only four at-bats shy of qualifying for the league lead in hitting, is batting .407 with three doubles, two triples and four stolen bases.
After capturing its series against Cornell last season, Columbia swept Penn in its final four regular season games en route to winning a best-of-three championship series against Dartmouth. The Lions won their first Ivy League banner in 31 years. However, the upcoming encounter with the defending league champions does not have the Red feeling intimidated. Columbia’s success last season in head-to-head battles against Cornell will play no part this weekend.
“No, I do not think that it factors into it too much,” Brodsky said. “It is more of an understanding that they won some games against us last year that I thought we should have won. Right now, they are just the third team in first place that is standing in our way and we need to take them down to get to where we want to be.”
Regardless of Columbia’s superb 2008 performance, this year’s Lions squad ranks at the bottom or near the bottom of nearly every hitting and pitching category. The Lions’ lineup is hitting a combined .264, the lowest average in the Ivy League. Columbia’s pitching has not fared much better, saddled with the second highest ERA in the league at 7.26.
“I interpret that as a very, very difficult non-conference schedule,” Walkenbach said. “If you just look at the teams that they’ve played in California, around New York City even their games in March, those numbers get skewed, so we don’t really follow those closely. They have played as difficult a schedule as anybody in our conference.”
“They lost a few key pitchers and hitters last year, Broadsky said. “From what I remember, they were a really well-coached team. [Head] coach [Brett] Boretti is a really fiery, intense guy. He’s going to have them ready to play. I know they’re coming off a disappointing weekend, but they are in first place too. We are all in the same position. We are expecting their best and we’re ready to bring our best too.”