Dana Daniels | Sun Staff Photographer

Baseball is off to an incredibly hot start in head coach Dan Pepicelli's second year not having a losing weekend thus far.

March 27, 2017

Baseball Takes 3 of 4 Against Bucknell for 3rd Straight Series Win; Looks Ahead to Penn St.

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Cornell baseball raked in three more wins in its four-game series against Bucknell this past weekend. The three wins came on Saturday and Sunday — winning both Saturday games 5-2 and 11-4, and one more win on Sunday, 7-3, while dropping the last game of the series, 1-0.

As the first four-game series for the Red all season, strong pitching and an explosive offense paved the path to Saturday’s doubleheader sweep, and split on Sunday.

“Especially with four game weekends, having good pitching is paramount and the team with a deeper staff has a big advantage,” said freshman pitcher Jeb Bemiss, who earned his first career win game two Saturday. “[Head coach Dan Pepicelli] pushes us to ensure that our preparation is unmatched, and that has resulted in a lot of confident arms in the pen so far.”

On Saturday, Cornell (9-4) senior starting pitcher Tim Willittes tossed a complete game to solidify the 5-2 win over the Bison (9-12) in the first game of the doubleheader. Willittes won his third game of the season by pitching seven innings, giving up only five hits and two runs, and notching four strikeouts.

Junior infielder Ryan Krainz went two-for-two and scored two runs, while senior Cole Rutherford put up a solo blast to put the Red up 3-1 in the sixth, which would prove to be the game-winning run.

Going into the seventh inning, the score remained tight with Cornell up 3-2, but that did not last for long. Junior Ellis Bitar tripled home Krainz and brought the score to 4-2, but it did not end there for the Red. Senior Tommy Wagner then drove in Bitar with a sacrifice fly to make the score to 5-2, which held as final.

Game two of Saturday’s doubleheader showed that the Red not only had key pitching, but also a rock solid defense. Cornell used four pitchers throughout the game who collectively gave up 10 hits, four earned runs, five walks while fanning three. Bemiss earned his first career win with three key innings of relief.

Rutherford had himself yet another impressive game, going three-for-five with his third home run of the season and second of the doubleheader. After an early 3-0 lead, the Red suddenly found itself in trouble as the Bison put up three in the bottom of the fourth, to tie the score. Cornell did not wait long to respond, putting up six runs in an offensive rally in the top of the fifth.

There was no comeback for the Bison after the Red’s explosive fifth inning, and the Red took the sweep of Saturdays doubleheader with a final score of 11-4 in game two.

The Red looked to keep the ball rolling as Sunday’s double header was right around the corner.

“We’ve raised our standards,” Rutherford said. “We know how much work we have put in, we know what we are capable of, and we hold each other accountable. The coaches do a great job of setting the standards and letting us know what they expect of us but ultimately this is our team and our year, so our ability to hold each other accountable for everything from practices to games has been a significant change this year.”

It is unusual for a four-game series to occur, especially outside of league play, but Cornell took advantage of the long weekend to get some extra play time to strengthen its offense and deepen its pitching.

“Doubleheaders can be tough because it crams in so much baseball into a short amount of time,” Rutherford added. “We are extremely well prepared for doubleheaders because of our depth. Our pitching depth and depth at every position on the field makes the long weekends easier knowing that if needed, we can get a lot of guys involved.”

In game one on Sunday both teams were silenced for the first three innings. But Cornell ended the drought in the fourth, as junior Dale Wickham scored on a single from senior Frankie Padulo. Bucknell fired back in the bottom half of the inning, putting up three to earn the lead.

That did not last for long as the Red’s offense did its job in putting up five runs in the top of the fifth thanks to loaded bases with no outs. A few walks given up by the Bison’s pitching staff to Wickham and Rutherford allowed for consecutive forced runs. Junior Trey Baur, junior pinch-hitter Pierre Le Dorze, Padulo and Krainz also added to the fifth inning offensive showcase.

The Bison led off the bottom of the inning with a double, but senior Matt Horton came on in relief and shut the door to earn himself his first win of the season, following the four-inning work of junior Tommy Morris, who made his Cornell debut with five strikeouts.

“Pitching once again proved to play a pivotal role in our series win this weekend,” Rutherford said. “Our pitchers have been phenomenal each weekend. We were missing one of our best pitchers in Justin Lewis but other guys stepped up and filled in tremendously. I believe we have one of the best and one of the deepest pitching staffs out there.”

Both teams came into Sunday’s second game ready for the last matchup of the season between the two and it proved to be a pitcher’s duel. The Red gave the ball to senior right hander Paul Balestrieri, who fanned five and allowed four hits along with one run on a home run. However, that ended up being the only run of the game, and Bucknell salvaged a single win on the weekend.

Bison starting pitcher Mike Castellani pitched a nine-inning shutout, allowing just three hits from the Red.

Pepicelli was extremely pleased with the outcome of the team this weekend, and hopes that the team keeps playing consistently.

“I was happy,” Pepicelli said. “We did a good job. We went on the road and it’s always tough to win on the road, but we went down there and took three out of four. So, I think we’re happy with what we saw.”

The team heads to University Park on Wednesday to take on Penn St. (9-13) at 6:30 p.m. as the first matchup between the two for a time much longer than Pepicelli can remember.

“We need to continue to work on staying where we’re at,” Pepicelli said. “We are swinging the bat really well, struggled a little bit in game four but I’m still happy with how we played all weekend. It’s just a matter of sticking with the plan that we have out there because I think it’s giving good results now.”