First year head coach Dan Pepicelli and Cornell baseball have shaken off the nerves with opening weekend in the past. Coming up against a tough opponent in Wofford this weekend, the Red looks to stick to the game plan they worked on during the offseason and eventually start to put together a winning record.
Cornell (1-2) is coming off a mildly successful opening weekend, picking up one win in the three-game series against Northeastern (6-5). The Red surrendered 22 runs on the weekend and were shut out twice by the Huskies. Clearly, their rust was showing.
“The main thing … we need to improve on is trusting our process,” said junior infielder Cole Rutherford. “Coach Pepicelli and all of the assistant coaches worked tirelessly with us the entire offseason on implementing the details that will enable us to be successful.”
While the defensive results are alarming, it is too early for anyone to start panicking.
“I think a lot of that defensive stuff will work itself out just with people calming down from opening weekend,” Pepicelli said. “I’m not going to overreact.”
Pepicelli noted that even some of his best players were not showing their best stuff.
“Frank Padulo made a few errors and if you watch him play everyday he is as good of a defender as there is,” Pepicelli said.
Junior infielder Padulo himself is not sweating it either.
“We just need to play to our standard and have trust in ourselves and the system,” he said. “That trust will allow us to go out and play loose, especially on defense where it will allow us to play with more rhythm.”
Rutherford also agrees with Pepicelli in saying he believes things will begin to work out defensively.
“I know our team was not satisfied with how the defense performed and we will continue to put in the work to make sure that we are up to our standard,” Rutherford said.
There were also some good aspects of last weekend that the Red can ride on going into the weekend.
“We had some positives at times last weekend offensively that we can build on,” Padulo said. “If we stay more focused and win each pitch, we will be fine.”
Cornell will travel to Spartanburg, S.C. to face the Wofford Terriers (10-4) for the first time since 1902.
It is essential that the Red trust the process and focus on what they have been doing, when facing a quality opponent such as Wofford.
“[Wofford] is a real good program,” Pepecilli said. “They are really dynamic on the bases [and] have been one of the [top] teams in the country every year on stolen bases. We are going to have to really control the running game.”
Wofford’s dangerous run game could prove costly if the Red’s defense does not have a better outing this weekend. Minimizing baserunners against a strong base running team like Wofford is crucial.
“[Wofford has] been playing well so far this season and we will have a good test against them,” Rutherford said. “They have a lot of team speed and like to steal, bunt and put the game in motion, so that is what we are expecting out of them.”
Pepicelli has decided to stick with the same rotation of junior right-hander Paul Balestrieri for game one, senior left-hander Michael Byrne for game two and junior right-hander Tim Willittes for game three.
Willittes allowed 5 earned runs over 4.1 innings in last Sunday’s 11-0 loss to Northeastern, but Pepicelli and the coaching staff are sticking to their guns.
“I think Timmy WIlletts didn’t have his best game,” Pepicelli said. “He thinks there is better in there — I think there is better. We are looking forward to seeing how he does on Sunday … He’ll be good. I’m confident in him.”
Pepicelli believes Willetts and the rest of the Red just need to find their rhythm and success will follow.
Cornell will play a doubleheader on Saturday starting at 1 P.M against the Terriers, and then a third on Sunday at noon.