Photo Courtsey of Cornell Athletics

Led by strong pitching from junior Paul Balestrieri and the bullpen, the baseball team swept Harvard after enduring a tough, five game losing skid.

April 4, 2016

Cornell Baseball Rebounds to Sweep Harvard

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Two late inning rallies in back-to-back games propelled the men’s baseball team (8-9, 2-0) to a doubleheader sweep of Harvard (7-12, 0-2). The Red relied on clutch hitting from junior first basemen Cole Rutherford to drive in the go ahead runs in both games.

With five straight losses at the hands of University of Central Florida (17-13, 2-1 AAC) and Rollins College (19-14, 5-7 SSC), the Red needed to respond with some victories. However,, the team wasn’t overly concerned with the losing streak on its Florida trip.

“UCF was a real tough opponent,” said head coach Dan Pepicelli. “We knew they would be one of the best teams we play all year.”

Rollins also presented challenges for the Red, but even though Cornell did not have a winning result on the field, Pepicelli noted trip was helpful in examining players for assignment as the season unfolds.

“We used a lot of guys so we could learn some things before Ivy League play,” Pepicelli said.

On Saturday, against Harvard, the Red put the pieces together both offensively and defensively to get back on the winning track. The team did not get discouraged, even when trailing the Crimson. Pepicelli was happy with his team’s tenacity.

“We really showed a lot of heart coming from behind in two games,” Pepicelli said. “I thought we played up to our standards.”

Starting the Ivy League season on a winning note was crucial for the Red. The pair of victories against a rival in Harvard should give the Red some confidence in upcoming home games.

“It was big to do it at home,” Pepicelli said. “We faced two really good arms that had challenged Florida, so we knew that they had some good stuff.”

The come-from-behind efforts were capped off two quality pitching performances. In the first game, junior right-handed pitcher Paul Balestrieri went the distance for the Red, surrendering just one run in seven innings of work.

“I thought that was the best Paul has looked all year,” Pepicelli said. “He had good fastball command, worked down in the zone, and got ahead in the count which really put him in position for some quick innings.”

In the second game, junior right hander Tim Willettes was pulled after just two innings of work in which he surrendered three runs.

“I thought Timmy had good stuff, I just didn’t like the match up very much,” Pepicelli said.

Harvard seemed to be seeing the ball well from the right-hander, so Pepicelli made the pitching change. The decision proved to pay off for the Red.

Pepicelli brought in sophomore left-hander Justin Lewis, who stifled Harvard for three innings before giving way to another lefty, senior Michael Byrne.

Byrne went on to secure the win for the Red with two shutout innings.

“We needed to change the momentum when we went to Lewis and Byrne,” Pepicelli said.

Offensively, Cornell does not overwhelm its opponents, but the Red seems to know when to chip in and produce runs.

“When we are at our best we are very timely and very clutch,” Pepicelli said. “When those innings start to build we tend to do a really good job capitalizing off of them.”

That was the case against Harvard, as Rutherford knocked in three runs at the right time to give the Red the lead. Rutherford’s hitting was a prime example of Cornell baseball at its best.

Cornell was supposed to take on Dartmouth on Sunday and St. Bonaventure on Tuesday, but all those games have been postponed due to weather. The men return this upcoming weekend, travelling to Brown and Yale for two straight doubleheaders.