May 3, 2009

Baseball Squad Falls One Game Short of Capturing Ivy League Title

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Cornell’s late-season magic carpet ride came to an abrupt end yesterday as the Red suffered a 10-0 defeat to Dartmouth in the deciding Game 3 of the Ivy League Championship series. The Red and the Green split Saturday’s doubleheader in Hanover, N.H.. Cornell dropped the opener 8-6 before squaring the series with a 14-12 victory in the nightcap.
“We expected to win the Ivy League, but there were many successes along the way that made the season an extremely positive experience,” said head coach Bill Walkenbach ’98.
After three consecutive last-place finishes since 2006, Cornell surprised many teams in the Ancient Eight by capturing only its second Gehrig Division title since the league switched to a two-division format in 1993. Unfortunately for the Red, its run was short-circuited by the league’s most potent offense. In the three-game championship series, Dartmouth’s offense hit 39-for-113, recording a .345 team batting average and pounding out an average of 10 runs per contest.[img_assist|nid=36656|title=Double threat|desc=Senior Scott Hardinger flashed the leather and belted his first home run of the season en route to a 14-12 victory in Saturday’s nightcap.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“They have a good mix of left/right/switch hitters and a lot of talent,” Walkenbach said. “They showed good discipline at the plate all year and they force you to throw strikes.”
In Game 1, the Green (26-16, 18-5 Ivy) erased a six-run deficit en route to an 8-6 victory. The Red (19-24, 12-12 Ivy) plated two runs in the first inning, but the uprising was quelled as freshman designated hitter Frank Hager lined into a triple play. With runners on first and second, freshman shortstop Joe Sclafani snagged the line drive for one out, stepped on second base for the second out and threw the ball to senior first baseman Mike Pagliarulo, who tug sophomore Mickey Broadsky for the third out.
“The pitcher at that point was not fooling anyone,” said senior catcher Adam Jacobs. “It was hit pretty hard and it was just unfortunate that it was right at the shortstop in this situation.”
The Red bolstered its lead in the top of the fifth inning as Jacobs opened the frame driving a triple off of the center field wall. Freshman right fielder Brian Billigen, who tops Cornell with a .404 batting average, jacked his first career homerun, staking the Red to a 4-0 advantage. Hager and senior left fielder Dom Di Ricco each registered RBI-singles to make it a 6-0 contest.
The Green began its trend of scoring runs in bunches this championship weekend by notching seven runs in the bottom of the inning. Dartmouth played small ball, cobbling together four singles and a triple accompanied by two Cornell errors and a wild pitch.
“You never want to let your guard down and you also want to stay out of big innings like that, especially against a team like Dartmouth that has the offensive power that they do,” Jacobs said. “[They received] some lucky bounces here and there and you have to give them some credit, they took advantage of them and they were hitting the ball pretty well. But, we certainly did not help out with our defense.”
“We worked all year on keeping our focus throughout the game and we definitely lost focus there,” Walkenbach said. “You cannot give an offense like theirs six outs in an inning.”
Dartmouth tacked on an insurance run in the eighth inning when senior reliever Stephen Osterer hit Pagliarulo with the bases loaded to force in a run. The Green held on for the 8-6 victory.
In Game 2, Billigen turned a leadoff bunt single into a two-base error as first baseman Mike Pagliarulo’s throw rolled down the right-field line. After senior shortstop Scott Hardinger provided a sacrifice fly, Hager hammered a three-run blast to give the Red a 4-0 edge after one inning.
The top of the lineup accounted for three more runs in the next inning to stake Cornell to a 7-1 lead. However, Dartmouth erased another six-run deficit with a two-run shot from sophomore Jeff Onstott in the third inning and five runs in the fifth inning.
Trailing 8-7, Cornell promptly responded in the bottom of the fifth inning as senior third baseman Nathan Ford led off with a game-tying home run to left field. Junior centerfielder Nate David also launched a two-run bomb to give the Red a 10-8 lead.
“Nate Ford certainly came up big for us when we got down 8-7,” Jacobs said. That was real big for us. That let Dartmouth know that we’re not going away anytime soon and that let our team know that we can score runs too and we can hang with these guys. You saw that with Nate David’s home run. What team wins 14-12 on the road? That’s crazy, but we did it. It was the whole mentality of our team. Everyone was in it. We have the resolve. Our backs were against the wall, but we weren’t going down without a fight.”
The Green answered with a four-run sixth inning to erase another Cornell lead. In the bottom of the seventh inning, David did it again, reclaiming the lead with a three-run blast to left-center.
Clinging to a 13-12 advantage, Hardinger’s defense in the eighth inning helped keep Dartmouth off of the board. Hardinger backhanded a ball in the hole and noticed senior designated hitter Ray Allen had strayed too far off of third base. Hardinger tossed to Ford, who slapped the tag on Allen for the second out and kept the tying run from crossing home plate.
“That play was huge for us,” Jacobs said. “Scott had to see that runner and look him back. The runner, who had taken two steps down the line, froze and started heading back to third when Scott flipped it to Nate. I do not think the runner was expecting it, but we got him out, which was huge [and let us] keep our lead there.”
Thanks to Hardinger’s first home run of the season in the eighth inning and his prowess in the field, the Red held on for the 14-12 victory.
In Game 3, the Green’s offense finally proved to be too explosive to handle. After walking the first two batters, sophomore right-handed pitcher Corey Pappel yielded three runs in the first inning. That was all Dartmouth needed as freshman right-handed pitcher Kyle Hendricks shutout Cornell for 7.1 innings.
Unable to produce a timely hit, Cornell left 13 men on base and suffered only its third shutout of the season. Senior Johnathon Santopadre was the unexpected hitting star of the game as he recorded his first career two-homer game for Dartmouth.
“You have to give credit to their pitcher,” Jacobs said. “He gave up some hits and we were hitting him pretty hard, but he got the outs when he needed to. There’s not much you can do about that. It would have been nice if we had a few more clutch hits, but that’s baseball. You can go from scoring 14 runs in one game to scoring zero the next.”
The victory clinched the Green’s first championship in 22 years.
Cornell will miss the production and leadership of its seniors — Casey Brett, Di Ricco, Ford, Hardinger, Jacobs, Osterer and Eddie Timpano. However, next year will be every bit as promising with a young nucleus of returning talent anxious to redeem themselves and capture Cornell’s first championship since 1977.
“The seniors have provided not only tremendous production, but also outstanding leadership,” Walkenbach said. “This season would not have been possible without their contributions. The future is very bright. With the majority of our staff returning plus a strong core of offensive talent, this team will be in the hunt again next year.”
“I know I speak for all of the seniors when I say ‘It was an absolute honor and pleasure to put on the Cornell baseball uniform,’” Jacobs said. “‘I wouldn’t trade a second of it for anything. It was just a great experience and I know the program is in good hands with the coaches and players that we have now. It’s been terrific and I know we’ll all bleed Big Red forever.’”