A midweek matchup with a tough club may not seem ideal for a team dealing with a slew of injuries, but Cornell baseball rallied late against central New York foe Binghamton and earned an impressive 6-4 victory Wednesday afternoon.
Banged up for the past several contests, Cornell (14-11, 3-5 Ivy) entered the game without its top hitter in junior Dale Wickham along with starting junior catcher Ellis Bitar. The team had managed a split against both Harvard and Dartmouth on the road last weekend, but with its first Lou Gehrig division action coming this Saturday at Columbia, a matchup with Binghamton (13-7, 3-2) did not seem like it might be the team’s top priority.
Nevertheless, the Red pieced it together and stormed back for five straight runs after trailing 4-1 in the sixth inning. The game’s hero? Sophomore catcher Will Simoneit, the next man up after Bitar, delivered the go-ahead two-run blast in the bottom half of the eighth.
“I think it was a fastball at least,” Simoneit said trying to remember what was a blur of a moment. “I just tried to sit back and find my pitch.”
The win brings a positive mark in what has been a recently tough stretch for the team, winning only four contests in the past 11 attempts.
“I’m very happy with how we played,” said head coach Dan Pepicelli of his team’s come from behind victory at Hoy Field. “We knew we had a real tough opponent on our hands, and it’s a good measuring stick for who we can be when we’re playing well.”
While the bumpy stretch can be attributed to key guys being forced to sit out injured, Pepicelli remains confident in the next man up to rise to the occasion whenever called upon.
“We try to make it as little of a story as possible,” he said of the injury bug that has found its way to his team. “These guys have worked real hard and have made no excuses. We haven’t talked at all about injuries in our locker room.”
Today’s starter behind the plate and game hero was no exception to the rule.
“Simoneit has meant a lot … he’s vastly improved, and his enthusiasm and athleticism are really playing well right now,” Pepicelli said.
Senior Scott Soltis took the ball to open up the game, and the right-hander — normally a relief pitcher — worked an effective three innings. Soltis surrendered a solo home run in the second to Luke Tevlin, but gave up just one more hit during his appearance. Senior first baseman Cole Rutherford tied the game up at one with an RBI single in the fourth after freshman John Natoli worked a scoreless top half of the inning.
Cornell’s next two pitchers did not have as much success. Colby Wyatt and Jeb Bemiss — both freshmen — each allowed an extra base hit, and the Red trailed 4-1 going into the bottom of the sixth. Rutherford drove in another run to extend his team lead in RBIs to 22, but the real damage in the game was done in the seventh and eighth once the Cornell bats really started to find a groove.
“We worked through some slow innings offensively, but then we locked in and put some good swings on the ball,” Pepicelli said.
In the two penultimate innings, freshman shortstop Matt Collins hit one over the fence, and after a Ryan Krainz double and ensuing sacrifice bunt, senior Tommy Wagner hit a sacrifice fly to left to bring home the fourth and tying run.
Senior southpaw Matt Horton pitched a 1-2-3 inning, and Cornell entered the bottom half of the eighth in search of one more run. After Rutherford’s leadoff walk, Simoneit got the fastball he was looking for and drove it over the left field fence to give his team the 6-4 lead.
Despite his biggest moment in a Cornell uniform — Simoneit did not see much playing time as a freshman — the Illinois native put the team first.
“It’s definitely a team effort,” he said. “We get pokes from a lot of guys, and I’m just lucky that mine was at the end there.”
Senior Pete Lannoo closed the game out with a scoreless ninth, and the Red earned its 14th victory of the year. Along with each of the other six pitchers who saw action for Cornell, Lannoo did not walk a single batter.
“We had no walks in nine innings which is especially big when you have so many pitching changes,” Simoneit said. “We have a great staff this year and a lot of great senior leadership that pulls us together.”
Now the team must turn its attention to Columbia and the upcoming four-game set that begins on Saturday in New York City. And while one might think that this kind of victory over Binghamton might be a statement win for Cornell, Simoneit begs to differ.
“I don’t think it really proves anything. Each games is its own game,” he said. “When it comes to Ivy League play we should treat that as any other game too. It doesn’t matter who we play, we should come out and play the same way every time.”
If Cornell does continue to play that way, the Red is more than capable of doing some damage down the road.
First pitch of the four-game series in the Big Apple is Saturday at noon.