April 30, 2009

Baseball Wins Divisonal Playoff

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The Cornell baseball program has now come full circle. A year after finishing dead last in the Gehrig Division, the Red completed its comeback yesterday in shocking style: After one inning of hell for the visitors yesterday afternoon — when Cornell put nine runs on the Hoy Field scoreboard — the Red (16-21, 10-10 Ivy) won the one-game playoff with Princeton (18-19, 10-10), 9-0, to secure a spot in the Ivy League Championship Series at Dartmouth this weekend.
“To have nobody on base and have nine runs score with two outs at that point is really bizarre,” said Princeton head coach Scott Bradley. “You probably will never see something like that again.”
And while the offense piled on the runs in the first inning, it was the Cornell pitching that carried the Red to victory. With a two-hitter from sophomore starter Corey Pappel, the Cornell pitching staff combined for 18 strikeouts — tying a school record set in 1957 for team strikeouts.
[img_assist|nid=37353|title=Holding down the fort|desc=Sophomore Corey Pappel kept Princeton down, holding the Tigers to two hits in his six inning effort. The Red opened up the game against Princeton with a bang, putting nine runs on the Hoy Field scoreboard with two outs.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“I was telling [starter Brad Gemberling, who was chased from the mound after 2/3 of an inning] after the game,” Bradley said, “the way we were swinging the bats — forget the eight — once you gave up the one we were done.”
“We were throwing a lot of strikes and getting ahead of hitters,” Pappel said. “Once we get ahead we can start throwing our off-speed pitches, making them chase stuff, so that was the big thing.”
Senior righthander Gemberling got the first two batters out easily but then walked three. With two outs and the bases loaded, senior Domenic Di Ricco sparked the Red offense with an RBI single to right center that put the Red in the lead, 2-0.
Junior Nate David’s three-run blast over the left field wall made it 5-0.
“Right off the bat, I knew it was gone,” David said. “It was one of those times [when you just know].”
And that five-run cushion would have been a respectable enough first-inning performance, but the Red wasn’t done yet. Princeton faced six more batters before getting that elusive final out.
Junior Matt Langseth hit the ball high to the right field corner, and it bounced fair for a double. He came home on senior co-captain Adam Jacobs’s double down left field line. Freshman Brian Billigen’s shot dropped in front of the right fielder for a single, scoring Jacobs.
The momentum was squarely on the home team’s side. Billigen stole second, and a hapless Gemberling walked senior Scott Hardinger (the only Cornell player not to have gotten on base at this point).
“The more you spend time around baseball, you realize that there are times when there are literally no explanations [for some things],” Bradley said. “[Gemberling] doesn’t walk people. He had just finished a terrific breaking ball to get a strikeout, so there are two outs and nobody on. Then all of the sudden nine runs and there’s four hits for both teams the rest of the way. It’s a bizarre game, there’s no explanation.”
The Tigers tried to change their luck — bringing David Palms, one of three Princeton hurlers to hold Cornell in the ensuing innings — but the Red bats could not be cooled in the first.
Though he had to reach for it, senior Nathan Ford managed to send the ball through the gap between the third baseman and the shortstop for an RBI single. Hardinger dove into third on a wild pitch. From there, sophomore Mickey Brodsky’s shot to left was able to send Hardinger home, putting the ninth and final run on the board before freshman Frank Hager struck out to end the inning.
Yesterday, the Red made use of the experience of facing the Tigers four times over the weekend.
“Brad was absolutely lights out on Friday,” said Cornell head coach Bill Walkenbach ’98. “Today I think the guys were seeing his slider better. That ended up being the difference there in the first inning.”
“[Facing Princeton last weekend] helped a lot,” Pappel said. “I got to see a lot of their hitters. The more we see of these guys the more we know what they’re going to chase, what they’re going to look for.”
Able to locate his stinging curveball well, especially in the early going, Pappel finished with 11 strikeouts and impressed both dugouts in six innings of work.
“Corey Pappel has really come out in the last few weeks,” Walkenbach said. “He was struggling with some mechanical things early on in the season. He and [pitching coach Scott Marsh] have been working hard on that, getting that straightened out. In the last three or four weeks he’s been the most dominant pitcher on our staff. We’ve been going with the hot pitcher all year, we decided to go with him today, and it paid dividends.”
“He’s got such good stuff,” Bradley said. “His height and the [3/4 arm] movement [and] he’s got two different types of breaking balls. Coming into this year, he was clearly one of the guys, as an opposing coach, he was clearly one of the guys that you thought was going to be one of the top pitchers in the league.”
Pappel also got strong support from the bullpen yesterday. Senior Stephen Osterer struck out the side in the seventh. Sophomore Jadd Schmeltzer came in for the eighth, striking out two in preperationg for his Game 1 start this weekend.
“Pitching is what wins games, and that’s what won it for us today,” Walkenbach said.
In the ninth, junior closer David Rochefort came in to put the nail in the coffin. After fanning two, he needed just one more strike to break the team strikeout record. A walk and a groundout later, however, Cornell was content with its Gehrig Division Champion status — satisfaction demonstrated with a red and white dogpile by the mound.
“This team came with so much energy this morning,” Walkenbach said. “I knew, when we broke in the huddle before the game, all the whooping and hollering and energy that was coming out of them, I really didn’t think there was any way we were going to lose this game.”