Cornell baseball has reached the part of the season where the games really start to matter — this weekend, the Red played their first in-conference series.
The Red traveled to face Columbia, the defending Ivy League Champions, for the start of Ivy play. After a 3-0 loss in game one on Saturday, Cornell rallied on Sunday, starting the doubleheader off with a narrow 4-3 win only to fall 13-8 in the final match.
Junior Colby Wyatt started on the mound for game one, throwing five innings and allowing two earned runs. Columbia’s first run in the bottom of the second was unearned, after a throwing error by freshman shortstop Justin Taylor allowed Columbia’s Josh Nicoloff to score from second base.
Cornell regrouped in the following innings and gave up one run in the third and one in the fourth. After the fourth inning, the combined pitching efforts from Wyatt, junior Andrew Ellison and senior Austin Arnold prevented Columbia from adding to the score.
Even while holding Columbia to three runs, the Red had difficulty getting on base — and when runners did get on, the team couldn’t bring them home. Columbia pitcher Josh Simpson went the distance, hurling for all nine innings and allowing Cornell only three hits while striking out seven.
“The first half of the game, we really felt pretty good about what we were doing,” head coach Dan Pepicelli said. “We were really swinging the bat well — a number of line drives, we hit right at people, so we were confident that we could get to [Simpson] at some point, and then he really generated the momentum and I thought we went away a little bit in the second half and I thought he did a dominant job in the second half.”
On the base path, Cornell was simply unlucky. Over the course of the game, the team got trapped in three double plays and was caught stealing second once. The team was also unable to capitalize on Columbia’s three fielding errors.
In game two, freshman pitcher Jon Zacharias got the nod for his first conference start and threw four effective innings — striking out five and allowing one run off three hits, but also walking four.
“Out of 18 hitters he faced, he was ahead of 15 of them, so he was very aggressive for a freshman,” Pepicelli said.
Multiple inning relief from junior John Natoli kept the Red in the game after Cornell’s momentous scoring drive in the 5th inning. Natoli inherited a first and third situation, with the tying run on first base. After giving up a sacrifice fly ball, making the score 4-3, Natoli struck out eight of the next ten batters he faced.
“[Natoli’s outing] was certainly one of the most dominant things I’ve seen in relief in all my time,” Pepicelli said.
The fifth inning marked an awakening in the Red’s offense. Senior infielder/outfielder Josh Ardnt got the ball rolling in the top of the inning with a leadoff triple down the right field line. Matt Collins later hit another triple, sending Ardnt home. Alex Carnegie followed with an RBI single. Then, with the bases loaded, Austin Flematti ripped a single, knocking in two more runs.
“[Offensive momentum is] such a contagious thing — we were midway through the game, going nowhere fast,” Pepicelli said. “And suddenly it started with Josh Ardnt hitting the ball hard down the line and really starting to spread from there.”
Coming off the 4-3 victory, game three was a tumultuous back-and-forth in the beginning. Cornell got on the board first with two runs in the top of the first inning but Columbia matched the score in the bottom of the inning. Cornell put up two more runs in the top of the second, only to have Columbia even the score up once more. In the third, the Red knocked in two runs again and Columbia answered with only one.
However, after the initial one-run lead going into the fourth inning, Cornell’s bats quieted while Columbia had two four-run innings to blow the game open. Despite scoring efforts late in the game, Cornell could not overcome the deficit.
Although Cornell lost the spark in its bats in the middle innings, the Red boasted eight total runs by the end of the game — the Red’s highest amount in a single game yet this season.
Cornell’s string of five hits culminating into four runs in game two followed by eight runs in game three embodied the team’s offensive goals, but the series only represented the beginning of conference play.
“We want to keep the bats rolling,” Pepicelli said.
Cornell will continue conference play in New Haven, Conn. on March 30 and 31 for three games against Yale, the runner-up in the 2018 Ivy League Championship.