June 18, 2012

BASEBALL | Cornell Caps Historic Season With NCAA Regional Tournament Run

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After a dramatic walk-off homerun by sophomore Chris Cruz powered the Red to its second Ivy League Championship in program history, the squad headed to Chapel Hill, N.C. for the NCAA Regional Tournament.

In its first game, the Red faced off against ACC powerhouse North Carolina. The Tar Heels (46-16, 22-8 ACC) finished the regular season at the top of the Coastal Division of the ACC, but fell to Miami — the ACC’s runner up — in the conference tournament.

The Red sent senior Rick Marks to the mound for his final start in a Cornell uniform. The right-hander held down the explosive Tar Heel offense for the first three innings, only allowing one run, before running into trouble in the fourth. Six North Carolina hits led to four runs in the inning, and Marks was taken out of the game — unable to record the final out. Freshman Nick Busto relieved him and went on to pitch a scoreless fifth inning.

The Red had quickly found itself in a 5-0 hole, with threatening skies overhead. However, in the top of the sixth, the squad’s seniors pieced together an answer. Senior shortstop Marshall Yanzick began the inning with an infield hit, then senior outfielder Brian Billigen took advantage of a 2-0 count and put the next pitch he saw over the right-center field fence. Just as the Red looked like it was gaining some momentum, the skies opened up and what began as a rally ended in more than an hour of rain delay.

Though Cornell was able to put another run on the board after the delay on an RBI single by freshman Kevin Tatum, it was not enough to hold down the Tar Heels. North Carolina answered in the bottom of the inning with two runs of its own, which was all the team needed to secure the win. Though the Red’s bullpen combination kept the Tar Heels at bay, the offense only mustered up one more run in the top of the eighth, falling 7-4.

The following day, with its hopes of heading to the NCAA super-regionals on the line, the Red fell to a powerful East Carolina team. Through four innings, the squad led 4-2, powered by RBI singles off the bats of senior Brandon Lee and sophomore Ben Swinford. Though freshman pitcher Brian McAfee was able to work out of one jam after another for four innings on the hill, he ran into trouble in the fifth — allowing five runs, only three of them earned. The Red offense could not overcome that deficit and eventually fell 10-6. In his last game for Cornell, Lee had another big game at the plate with three hits and an RBI, while sophomore Tom D’Alessandro chipped in three hits and two RBIs.

The loss to East Carolina capped a historic season for the Red, but the accolades did not end there. The baseball team was one of 11 Cornell teams honored by the NCAA for APR scores, which measures semester-by-semester records for every individual team in Division I.

Freshman reliever Kellen Urbon also received some individual honors, as he was picked by the NCBWA to the First-Team Freshman All-American and named a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American.

Just two weeks after the NCAA regionals, Billigen — whose .361 average and consistent play in center field led the Red all season — signed a contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks, putting him into a mix of 14 Ivy League standouts who were drafted this year.

Original Author: Scott Chiusano