With a strong start through 10 games, the Cornell men’s baseball team looks to continue their success as they travel again to Florida to take on the University of Central Florida and Rollins College on what will be a busy five-game road trip.
The main focus for this weekend and beyond is playing up to what they consider their “standard.”
The Red (6-4) has been pleasantly surprised by their success, as they have defeated difficult opponents such as Wofford (15-7) and most recently took three of four games in series against Bucknell (7-13). Nevertheless, head coach Dan Pepicelli and Cornell believe there is still a lot of room for improvement.
“We’ve got a lot of things to work on,” Pepicelli said. “There are things that we definitely need to clean up before Ivy League play. But I am happy with the fundamentals of what I am seeing, which is their ability to compete day in, day out, regardless of scoreboard. I really like our energy and our competitive spirit.”
Sophomore outfielder Dale Wickham agrees with Pepicelli that the team still needs to improve and is not close to its peak. The Red is not accepting decency. Only work up to their standard will be permitted.
“Each game we hold ourselves to a high standard that combines hitting, defense and pitching,” Wickham said. “We’ve put together complete games in all three aspects a couple times so far this year, but will look to achieve at our standards more often looking forward. Our best baseball is still yet to come.”
Yet, it is clear the players are not disregarding their success completely, especially with Wickham, who is hitting a solid .342 batting average, and a .405 on base percentage.
“Success always feels good, and I’m just looking to carry consistency with me as we move forward into Ivy League play,” Wickham said.
Cornell will need to continue sticking to the fundamentals coach Pepicelli commented on as they take on a formidable UCF team, which plays strong programs throughout their season.
“Central Florida is a real strong program,” Pepicelli said. “They are playing against the likes of Florida State, Florida and Miami week in and week out. We expect a high level of competition … and we are looking to play up to our standard to see what that looks like … I think just pursuing that against really high quality opponents will bring out the best in us.”
Cornell is focusing on playing up to their standard. Coach Pepicelli has tried to instill in his players that if they play up to that standard and stick to what they have been doing, the results will come.
“We approach each game the same,” Wickham said “Just trust the process we have worked on since day one, and go out and compete come game day. When we trust the process and compete, we expect to win every time we step between the lines.”
A big name program like UCF does not scare the Red. But there is not much room for error.
“We’re going to have to pitch, we’re going to have to play defense,” Pepicelli said. “We are probably not going to line up against them and hit six home runs we did in the one game at Wofford. You can’t rely on that type of stuff happening.”
Cornell will then regroup on Monday and travel to Rollins (15-11) to play Tuesday and Wednesday.
“[Rollins] is a really good offensive team,” Pepicelli said, highlighting the importance of pitching for those games.
Pitching will also be somewhat of a challenge to figure out. The Red will be coming off the three-game weekend series. In addition, Cornell begins four games of Ivy League play the following weekend, which will be crucial.
“We are going to need Michael Byrne out of the pen.” Pepicelli said. “Then we are going to reshuffle the deck on Monday and see what we want to do with the midweeks.”
Cornell will start junior right-handers Paul Balestrieri, Tim Willittes and Peter Lanoo in that order against UCF.
Willettes notably has been on fire in his last two outings, with 13 strikeouts in his last outing against Bucknell this past weekend. Cornell hopes to see continued success from Willittes and the rest of the pitching staff in a busy stretch of games down south.