March 31, 2013

BASEBALL | Cruz’s Return, Strong Pitching Prove Integral

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With the explosive bat of junior outfielder Chris Cruz back in the lineup this weekend, the baseball team got the boost it needed, winning its first three games of the Ivy season on Hoy field. Dominant pitching helped the Red to a sweep of Brown on Saturday and the squad returned to the diamond Sunday afternoon to come from behind and beat Yale.

Sophomore left hander Nick Busto gave the Red yet another solid outing on the mound, going the distance against Brown, only allowing one run while striking out five. Though Busto got only three starts last season, he has now cemented a spot in the starting rotation and has compiled a 3-0 record with a team-low 1.41 ERA.

“He’s been huge, obviously the stats speak for themselves,” Cruz said of the young hurler. “He’s been able to throw very well and fill in the spot we needed, especially with [junior pitcher] Connor Kaufmann being out. He’s just been really big.”

The Red gave Busto some immediate support in the opener of Saturday’s doubleheader, jumping out to a 4-0 lead after the first inning. The first two runs were a testament to the Red’s plate discipline, as the first one scored on a passed ball and the second when sophomore outfielder JD Whetsel was hit by a pitch.

Busto didn’t need anymore help than that, though the Red put two more runs on the board in the sixth. He coasted for the rest of the game — his only bump coming off a Brown run in the third — leading his team to a 6-1 victory.

Although the Red got another impressive pitching performance from sophomore Brian McAfee in the afternoon game, the story of the second contest was Cruz’s bat. The junior went four-for-four with an RBI, blasting his first homerun of the season in the fourth.

“That was awesome. It was fun just to be back in general, but being able to produce like that … I really let the guys know that I’m back and healthy,” Cruz said.

His team was certainly lucky to have him back. After taking a 1-0 lead in the second off a safety squeeze by junior infielder Ben Swinford, Brown tied the game up in the fourth. Cruz changed that with one smooth stroke, though, sending a pitch from Brown’s starter Dave St. Lawrence over the right field fence of Hoy field. Swinford and sophomore outfielder Kevin Tatum also chipped in with one hit and one RBI apiece, giving the Red a 4-1 victory and a sweep of the doubleheader with the Bears.

The following day against the Bulldogs, the Red came out lethargic. Allowing five runs in the top of the first — only one of them earned — sophomore starter Brent Jones found himself with a five run deficit to work through.

The offense did not let him down. The Red came right back in the bottom of the frame to score five runs of its own. The squad loaded the bases with one out, scoring its first run on an RBI walk by junior first baseman Ryan Plantier. Swinford followed that up with an RBI single to center, chasing the Bulldogs’ starter from the game after just a third of an inning. Whetsel then hit a two-out double, scoring Cruz and Plantier to cut the deficit to one. But the Red’s potent offense was not finished yet, as Tatum followed with an RBI single, tying the game.

“We were very confident, we knew we would be able to score runs at some point,” Cruz said. “It just so happened that we scored five right after them, which also helped to put them down because they thought they’d be able to coast.”

Jones settled down after his rocky first inning, pitching four more scoreless frames. Sophomore hurler Eric Upton came in to shut the door, pitching two scoreless innings without allowing a hit. The Red also tacked on three more runs to make the final score 8-5.

The offense exploded for twelve hits in the matchup with Yale. All but two of the starters recorded a hit and four starters — Whetsel, sophomore catcher Matt Hall, Cruz and Tatum — had multiple hits.

According to Cruz, this balance in the lineup will prove increasingly important as the Red moves forward this season.

“That is going to be huge for us. From one to nine, we have guys who can swing it,” he said. “We have four or five guys that could be three, four or five hitters and are dispersed throughout the lineup. That balance makes us tough against any team.”

The second game of the doubleheader was postponed one day due to inclement weather.

Now 3-0 in the Ivy League with another conference game still to be played, Cruz said that his team will remain focused on bringing the same mentality into its games this week.

“We’re just working on having good at bats and playing good defense behind our pitchers,” he said. “If we do all the small things, we know we’ll be all right.”

Original Author: Scott Chiusano