April 7, 2011

Slow Start to Baseball Season Not Affecting Red’s Mindset

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The Cornell baseball team has come within striking distance of the Ivy League championship the last two seasons, but has been unable to bring the trophy to Ithaca since 1977. This season, the club hopes its balance of veteran players and productive freshmen will be enough to topple the other Ivy squads. Cornell has opened the year 3-17 and won one of its first four games of conference play, which began on April 2 against Yale; however, only three Ivy teams entered conference action with winning records. Below is a position-by-position breakdown of the roster that looks to reclaim the conference championship.

Catcher: Junior Brandon Lee and senior Mike Lopez have both been squatting in front of the ump for the Red, as they did in 2010. Lopez, in addition to calling pitches for the Red, added ten runs and nine RBIs last season. Lee can also serve as a designated hitter for the Red, but sat out the latter half of his sophomore season due to an injury. Both have contributed two doubles so far this season.First Base: Senior Mickey Brodsky is a force to be reckoned with at the plate. The first baseman received All-Ivy honors last year, and has already made the Ivy League Honor Role twice for his offensive performance. He currently sports a .309 average and is on track to lead the Red in RBIs yet again this season. “Mick has always been the rock of our offense. You can always count on him to get a hit,” said senior pitcher Corey Pappel.Second Base: Sophomore Brenton Peters helped lead the Red to its first Ivy League victory this season with a sacrifice bunt to advance a runner in last weekend’s second game versus Brown. During his freshman year, Peters went on a six-game hitting streak in which he raised his average to an astonishing .619, including a 4-for-4 performance at Brown, where he hit his first career homerun. This season, the infielder is averaging .236, ranking him fifth among his teammates; however Peters has committed eight errors.Third Base: Freshman Ben Swinford is a prime example of young players stepping up for Cornell this season. Swinford, who leads the team with a .314 batting average, recently claimed the coveted position of clean-up hitter during the recent series versus Brown. The rookie, who has notched 22 hits over 70 at-bats so far, follows in Brodsky’s footsteps as one of three Cornellians to earn the Ivy League Baseball Honor Role this season.Shortstop: Junior Marshall Yanzick currently holds a .387 on-base percentage, topped only by Swinford. After playing in only seven games as a freshman, Yanzick claimed the starting shortstop roll in 2010 and has not looked back since. The shortstop was caught stealing second during the win versus Brown, but also enabled a score by Billigen that put the Red on the scoreboard first.Left Field: Tom D’Ales­san­dro, another freshman, cleanly fields 91 percent of balls that come his way. Over 30 at-bats, D’Alessandro has built a .367 average after leading off in both games of the Yale doubleheader. “A lot of the freshmen have been put in positions that they may not be used to playing defensively, so they are in an interesting spot having to adapt to playing Division I baseball and adapt to playing another position,” Pappel said.Center Field: Junior Brian Billigen stands closest to the Rhodes Theory Center and his theory about center is that everything gets caught. Billigen leads off and his .290 average is not completely telling of his value to the Red as a source of momentum. The outfielder has hit three doubles, three triples and four homeruns so far this year, while his teammates have collectively contributed four triples and five homeruns. Since the end of his freshman year, Billigen has started every game the team has played, and can occasionally pitch lefty.Right Field: Though right field sees a greater variety of players than any other position, more often than not freshman Chirs Cruz can be found there. Cruz, who recently went 3-for-6 in the Red’s offensive explosion against Brown, has contributed four doubles and eight RBIs this season, as well as his first career homerun.Designated Hitter: Though not the only DH, junior infielder Frank Hager has consistently put balls in play for the Red as the extra man. Hager played third base almost every game last season and scored 24 runs with 23 RBIs — good enough for second best on the Red in both categories. The doubles machine is only hitting .222 through the early part of the season.Starting Pitchers: Senior Jadd Schmeltzer distinguished himself as one of Cornell’s best starters in 2009, a season in which he struck out 42 batters in 42.2 innings while posting a 4.01 ERA. Schmeltzer has sliced that number to 3.60 in the early part of 2011.Pappel led the Red in innings pitched and strikeouts his junior year, notching 52 strikeouts — an average of over one per inning — and his 3.71 ERA earned him an All-Ivy honorable mention. Pappel was also the only pitcher for the Red to break the one-strikeout-per-inning mark in 2009.Taylor Wood is the third senior in the Red’s veteran rotation. The 6-4 senior pitched a full seven innings only once last season, made a total of ten appearances and can serve as a reliever when necessary.Closers: This season, the Red has sent in sophomores Mike Kazley, Houston Hawley and An­thony Iri­goyen, junior Rick Marks and senior Dan Lea for relief. “We have a lot of guys that pitch very well and can be effective out of the pen,” Pappel said. “We have guys who can come in and give us a couple innings of shut-down baseball. We are right now piecing to­gether who will be our go-to closers this season.”

Original Author: Rob Moore