This story is part of The Sun’s 2017 spring supplement. To view the rest of the supplement, click here.
It is pretty simple. You cannot win a ball game if the other team scores more runs than you do. Needless to say, pitching is key, and has been a source of strength for Cornell baseball. As the Red has moved up in the ranks from last year, its pitching has improved in tandem, proving to be a guiding force for a team moving in the right direction.
While Cornell (21-17, 9-11 Ivy) will not reach the postseason, it will end the 2017 season with better results than last year, when the team finished last in the Ivy League with a losing record overall. And in Dan Pepicelli’s second year as head coach — and first as pitching coach — of the Red, his pitching staff has impressed and performed.
Last year, the Red finished the season with a collective earned run average of 6.17. Cornell currently sits in the top half of the conference with respect to ERA (4.60), despite tying for fewest strikeouts per nine innings (6.53).
“We pitch a lot to contact,” Pepicelli said earlier this month. “We don’t have a lot that’s going to blow you away, but we can be successful.”
This pitching staff does not see the game in numbers and figures, which senior relief pitcher Peter Lannoo believes contributes to his team’s success.
“I think staying oriented in process rather than results helps to keep a level head during the season, through success or failure,” Lannoo said. “Different people define success differently, but everyone knows if they are working hard day in and day out. Our pitching staff, and team as a whole, is process-driven and not necessarily results-driven, so that when we get in a game situation we can just relax and have fun.”
Fellow senior relief pitcher Matt Horton echoed a similar sentiment that seems to be consistent throughout the pitching staff.
“You can throw a great pitch that gets hit for a home run or you can throw a pitch right down the middle that gets popped up,” the southpaw said. “If you focus on what you can control, you will be much better off.”
Horton and Lannoo have both shined in the back end of games to secure many wins this season. Horton has posted a .240 opposing batting average in 12 appearances, and Lannoo has recorded seven saves. The starters are appreciative of the help from guys like Horton and Lannoo, knowing if they do their job, they have a strong back end that can close the door.
“In most cases as a staff we’ve been putting our team in a position to win games,” said senior starting pitcher Paul Balestrieri. “I’m really proud of our bullpen. We’ve had some guys in the pen that have really stepped up for us.”
Balestrieri, the workhorse of the Cornell pitching staff with 57.2 innings pitched, has contributed greatly to his team’s ability to stay competitive. The Red’s ace currently stands with a 2.18 ERA, cutting his number from last year (5.51) in half, and then some. But the competitiveness does not come from simply keeping a game close, but rather from a mentality that this group strives for.
“I think we have had an extremely competitive mindset all season,” Lannoo said. “Everyone in the pitching staff, from the starters to bullpen guys, is ready to compete and help the team on any given day, and that attitude is a huge reason for our success.”
Despite some disappointing results, including a series loss at home against Lou Gehrig Division champion Penn, the pitching has stayed solid. Cornell averaged three runs allowed per game against the Quakers, including a 2-0 shutout win by junior starter Justin Lewis.
“We have done a very good job at keeping our team in the game,” Horton said. “As long as the game is close late in the game, we have the utmost confidence that our hitters will provide us with runs, and our pitchers will secure the win.”
Cornell fell short of the postseason once again. But the visibly improved results and attitude of Cornell’s pitching staff under Pepicelli show promise for the future of the program.