April 21, 2011

Red Prepares for Penn Trip After Series Split With Siena

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The Cornell baseball team lost the penultimate game of its road trip, but finished strong by shutting out Siena (14-23, 3-6 MAAC) in the second game of Tuesday’s double header. The Red (5-26, 3-9 Ivy League) ended its 12-game road trip with a record of 3-9, scoring 56 runs compared to 76 allowed. After losing game one to the Saints, 8-3, Cornell out together enough offense in the third and sixth innings of game two to best Sienna in a shutout, 9-0, finishing. The Cornell team also split its last two games versus Columbia. Continuing the trend against its next opponent could improve the struggling team’s record to 5-11 in Ivy League play.

The Red will return to Hoy Field this weekend for a four-game stint against Penn (16-16, 7-5). Cornell fans will also be excited to hear that the Red’s rainout on April 6 versus Binghamton has been rescheduled for May 4 at home.

Cornell continued to rely on the strong batting performance of freshman right fielder Chris Cruz, junior center fielder Brian Billigen and sophomore second baseman Brenton Peters. Cruz knocked a thunderous two-run homerun out of the park in game two, while Billigen went 4-for-7 on Tuesday with three RBIs. Cruz also saw time on the mound, pitching four innings in game one, while Peters added to the Red’s offensive output with both a double and a triple — reaching base three times in the twin bill.

Cruz, who started game one on the mound, held the Red’s lead to 3-2 after the fifth, recovering quickly after giving up an early first run by striking out two Saints to end the inning. The Red made use of a sacrifice bunt in the second frame to tie things up at one and stay in the game early. By the end of the fifth, the Red had only given up three hits, but could not claim a substantial lead.

Sienna capitalized on Cornell’s relief pitching, completing the comeback win by crossing home plate six times against sophomore hurler Houston Hawley and junior pitcher Rick Marks in the bottom of the fifth. Hawley took the loss, bringing his record to 0-2.

A tremendous performance by one of Cornell’s veterans, senior pitcher Dan Lea, salvaged the night by bringing the Red its first shutout since April 24, 2010. Lea pitched the entirety of the second game, earning seven Ks and surrendering just one walk. Improving his record to 1-1 in the process, Lea bested Sienna’s bullpen on his own. Saints relievers sent six Cornell players to first with walks and gave up nine runs on 11 hits to the Red. Backed up by a strong defensive showing, Lea saw only two more batters over the minimum on his way to 15 outs before the umpire called the game in the bottom of the sixth due to darkness.

Game two saw the Red score six runs in the third inning alone, leaving the Saints in a six–run hole by the beginning of the fourth. Cornell added insurance in the fifth, scoring the final three in a two-out situation. Peters added to this last scoring outburst with a double, while senior catcher Mike Lopez tacked on a single. Freshman shortstop Tom D’Alessandro chased home Lopez and Billigen for a pair of RBIs. The freshman outfielder boosted his average to .273 by the end of Tuesday’s doubleheader, while Billigen is now holding steady at a clip of .289 — the third best on the Red.

Looking forward to four games of baseball versus Gehrig Division rival Penn starting Saturday, the Red is focused on strong relief pitching and smart base running. Tuesday saw head coach Bill Walkenbach ’98 call for multiple players to steal second and even third base — signaling to the Quakers that stealing bases is in his team’s arsenal. Penn has a losing record when on the road, but also sports an impressive roster.

“One thing we definitely work on is taking bases when the catcher drops the ball or ball gets by.  We make sure we are prepared to advance on those situations. It is something we have been putting a lot time into and doing well this year,” said senior pitcher Corey Pappel.

While the team does not describe themselves as overly-aggressive base runners, they try to play smart and capitalize on opportunity. The Red has spent many practices indoors due to inclement weather, where the team has taken advantage of the chance to work on the fundamentals.

“[We’ve done] drill work on bunting and those sorts of things, but every opportunity we get out on the field we try to get as many swings in, as many ground balls, as many reps as we can,” Pappel said.

In 2010, the Red split its regular season contests with the Quakers and aims to do at least that this season. The Quakers are led by Jeremy Moss, a senior pitcher hitting .375, who has contributed 28 runs for his team’s offense. Junior shortstop Derek Vigoa and senior catcher Will Davis will also be dangerous for the Cornell pitching staff as they both sport .316 averages and well over 20 RBIs apiece. The Red’s offense will look to capitalize on Penn’s relief pitchers, such as freshman Alex Ott and junior Patrick Brennan, and is likely to face the majority of the Quaker’s pitching staff due to the length and compactness of the four-game series.

So far this season, the Red’s scoring has been relatively even between early and late innings, as has Penn’s. Both doubleheaders are scheduled to begin at noon on Saturday and Sunday at Hoy Field.

“We are really trying to keep focused and win baseball games, as simple as that sounds,” Pappel said. “The season has not been going the way we intended it to thus far, but we are really trying to make some good momentum moving forward and make sure we have these last two weekends to go up there and show something. We want to prove we can compete and we can play the way we think we can play.”

Original Author: Rob Moore