April 8, 2010

Baseball: Conference Contenders

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The baseball team came within one win of its first Ivy League championship since 1977 last season. After losing the decisive third game in the championship series to Dartmouth last May, the Red is counting on a more experienced pitching staff and a retooled lineup to contend for the conference crown again this season. Cornell has opened the season 6-10 and split its first four games of conference play. Below is a position-by-position breakdown of the roster that has its sights set on a conference championship. Catcher: As a freshman, Brandon Lee played in seven games and batted .316 with solid power. As a sophomore, he’s earned the role of starting catcher. The Red is confident Lee can provide some offensive punch from a position often reserved for players who are better with a glove than a bat. Head coach Bill Walkenbach went so far as to predict that Lee will qualify for one or more all-conference teams before he graduates. First Base: Junior Mickey Brodsky batted .309 and led the Red in RBI last season. Brodsky is primed to lead the charge offensively again this season. He will slide from the clean-up slot to the three-hole in the batting order –– a spot that was previously reserved for multi-sport star Nathan Ford ’09. Second Base: A transfer from Ohlone College, senior Matt Langseth arrived at Cornell with high expectations last season. He showed the ability to put the bat on the baseball last season by putting together a .316 average. While Langseth does not hit for much power, he struck out just 18 times last season –– the fewest among players with at least 100 at bats.  Third Base: Sophomore Frank Hager was blocked by established players at most positions last season. Regardless, Hager’s stellar play forced Walkenbach to play him in 26 games last season. Hager batted .333 with an excellent .974 OPS. This season, Hager will take over as the everyday third baseman and occupy the clean-up spot in the batting order. Shortstop: With the graduation of dependable shortstop Scott Hardinger ’09, sophomore Marshall Yanzick will get the first crack at taking over as the captain of the defense. Yanzick did not play much as a freshman, but he managed to get on base in five of his 10 plate appearances. “We feel like Marhsall Yanzick is a very capable offensive player who’s going to step in and give us a lot of what Scotty Hardindger gave us last year,” Walkenbach said.Left Field: Senior Kyle Groth had one of the most potent bats on the 2007 and 2008 baseball teams. He missed all of last season with an injury, but was granted a medical redshirt that makes him eligible to play this season as a fifth-year senior. The Red hopes Groth can recapture the batting stroke that tallied a combined 39 RBI during his sophomore and junior seasons.Center Field: After struggling with the bat as a sophomore, senior Nate David had a breakout performance in 2009. David slugged eight home runs –– good for second on the team –– and batted .301.Right Field: During his rookie season, leftie Brian Billigen batted .404. His batting average was the fourth-highest in school history and helped him nab second-team All-Ivy recognition. Billigen will attempt to spark the lineup from the leadoff spot this season. Designated Hitter: Junior Jadd Schmeltzer is a dual threat who can both pitch and club home runs. If he wants to continue to earn opportunities to club home runs, however, he will need to improve his command of the strike zone a year after batting just .220. Bench: Junior Mike Lopez will see significant action at catcher this season. He was buried on the depth chart behind Adam Jacobs ’09 and Lee a season ago, but he will have a chance to prove himself now that Jacobs has graduated. Freshman Connor McCabe will serve as the team’s fourth outfielder. “He swung the bat as well as anyone in the offseason and early spring practice,” Walkenbach said of McCabe.The team’s utility infielder should once again be senior Jerry Vitiello. Vitiello can play most positions on the field and does a serviceable job with the bat.Rookies Brenton Peters and Spencer Souza should also get into a few games as their coaches try to prepare them for heavier workloads in future seasons. Starting Pitching: The pitching staff returns all of its starters from a season ago and expects to bounce back from a disappointing season on the mound.“We only lost one pitcher [reliever Stephen Osterer ’09] from last year,” said junior Taylor Wood. “Just having a lot of returning pitchers will help us.”Junior Corey Pappel was the only starter to average better than a strikeout per inning last season. If he can improve his control, he should be the staff ace this season. Schmeltzer may not have had a great season with the bat, but he may have been Cornell’s best starter in 2009. Schmeltzer struck out 42 batters in 42.2 innings while posting a 4.01 ERA.Senior Matt Hill will look to bounce back from a disappointing junior season. In 2008, Hill won a team-high five games with a 4.25 ERA. Last season, Hill was 2-6 with a 6.66 ERA. His performance will play a big factor in Cornell’s success this year. Like many on Cornell’s pitching staff, Taylor Wood struggled a season ago. He posted a 6.44 ERA and will need to generate more swings and misses if he hopes to take a step forward during his junior season.“I picked up a lot of experience this summer playing in a good collegiate summer baseball league [the NECBL] and I’m just older and have more game experience at the college level,” Wood said.Brodsky will primarily play first base, but he will occasionally chip in on the mound. He demonstrated exceptional control last season by walking just five batters in 37 innings. Senior Tony Bertucci should earn some starts, but he will be on a short leash after finishing with an ERA above eight last year.Closer: Senior Dave Rochefort has established himself as a lights-out closer for the Red. He had a 33 to five strikeout-to-walk ratio last season when he picked up eight saves with a 2.52 ERA.“Dave is the first experience I’ve ever had with a true, reliable shutdown closer,” Walkenbach said. “It makes my life so much simpler and gives the team such a feeling of confidence knowing we have a dominant guy to finish out games when we need him.”

Original Author: Zack Slabotsky