April 29, 2009

Red to Face Princeton In One-Game Playoff

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The baseball team will host Princeton tomorrow for the right to face Dartmouth for the Ivy League Championship. The Red (15-21, 10-10 Ivy) split a doubleheader with the Tigers (18-18, 10-10) on Friday and dropped the first game of Monday’s twin bill. Needing a win in Game 2, freshman infielder Frank Hager blasted a two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth to put Cornell in front for good. The fact that the Red is even in this position is remarkable considering its 2-11 start.
“I think a big reason for our turnaround is the back of the bullpen with [junior] Dave Rochefort and [senior] Steve Osterer,” said junior outfielder Nate David. “They’ve both pitched lights-out at the end of games. Late in games, we’ve had real clutch hitting from [senior] Nate Ford, [sophomore] Mickey Brodsky and [senior] Dom Di Ricco.”
Each of Cornell’s games against Princeton was decided by three runs or less and tomorrow’s contest should follow suit. In a rematch of Friday’s pitching match-up, sophomore Corey Pappel will face Tigers senior Brad Gemberling. On Friday, Gemberling went 7.2 strong innings in a winning effort, giving up four runs on nine hits while striking out 13. Princeton’s most complete hurler, Gemberling used a dazzling array of off-speed pitches and pinpoint control to post 73 strikeouts against just 13 walks in 54.2 innings this season.
“I thought he was, by far, their best pitcher,” said pitcher / designated hitter Mickey Brodsky. “We just battled early in the count and tried not to get two strikes on us because he’s got that slider that is almost un-hittable. In key situations guys have to come through much like we did in Game 2 when we beat him. We’re not going to get too many opportunities, but when we do, we’re going to have to come through.”
Sophomore closer Matt Grabowski was the lone bright spot in the Tiger bullpen this season. The hard-throwing righty appeared in 20 games in 2009 and amassed five saves and a 2.87 ERA. Due to the magnitude of this game, it won’t be surprising if junior starter David Hill makes a relief appearance. Hill, who shared Ivy League Pitcher of the Week honors with Pappel, fanned 47 batters this year thanks, in large part, to a fastball that sits in the mid-90s. Hill’s fastball will pick up velocity and his off-speed pitches will have extra bite if he comes out of the bullpen.[img_assist|nid=37302|title=You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow|desc=Freshman leadoff hitter Brian Billigen leads the Red in batting average with a .394.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]

Cornell’s pitchers has enjoyed recent success against the Tigers. It was behind Pappel’s eight-inning, one-run masterpiece that the Red defeated Gemberling on Friday. The 6-6 right-hander uses his frame to create deception.

“He throws the ball pretty hard,” said junior infielder Matt Langseth. “He’s a long kid. Tall, lanky. So he’s got a lot of elbows and knees flying everywhere. Everything moves. His fastball moves one way and his off-speed stuff moves the other way.”

Pappel is at his best when he pitches to contact and induces ground balls. In that respect, the free-swinging Tigers might play right into his hands. Princeton’s only real power threat is senior catcher Jack Murphy, and he hit just four home runs this season. The Tigers’ collection of contact hitters prefers to play small ball, and no one exemplifies this approach more than senior Derek Beckman. Cornell pitchers must keep the outfielder off of the base-paths where he wreaks havoc with his speed. Senior shortstop Dan LeGeorge and his double play partner, junior Greg Van Horn, are good situational hitters who reach base 40 percent of the time. Still, the Princeton offense is underwhelming, and Pappel sees no reason why he can’t duplicate his last performance against them.

“If I can get ahead and throw the pitches that I want, then they’re all beatable and they’re all guys you can get out,” he said. “I just can’t let them dictate what I do.”

If Pappel falters early, coach Bill Walkenbach will call on sophomore Jadd Schmeltzer. The right-hander was the Red’s most consistent starter throughout the season, and he turned in a complete game in a losing effort against Princeton on Friday. Schmeltzer wants to cut down on his walks, but believes he is peaking at the right time. If Pappel carries a lead deep into the game, the Red will turn the ball over to Osterer and Rochefort.

“It’s going to be a pitcher’s duel,” Schmeltzer said.

If Schmeltzer’s words prove prophetic, miscues in the field could determine the final outcome. On Saturday, Princeton had trouble with the turf on Hoy Field and the Red made two errors. By the time the Tigers take the field tomorrow, they will have made two trips to Ithaca over the past week. But with a place in the championship game at stake, Cornell players do not expect a letdown.

As Langseth put it, “It’s [going to] be a dog fight.”