Columbia baseball came into the weekend hoping to get revenge against the defending champion Tigers, who won three out of four at Princeton last year and knocked the Lions out of playoff contention. The Light Blue did just that, as Columbia (17-22, 9-7 Ivy) took three out of four to put Princeton (17-17, 10-6 Ivy) on the brink of elimination.
Friday saw the two teams split a doubleheader, with a 4-1 Lions victory in game one and a 5-2 Tigers victory in game two.
Columbia got on the board right away in game one, behind doubles by senior third baseman Jon Eisen, junior outfielder Nick Ferraresi, and junior third baseman Alex Black, grabbing a 2-0 lead. Black would later pull his hamstring trying to beat out a double play ball in the fourth inning, and was not able to play for the rest of the weekend.
“That was good to see us coming out swinging and being aggressive against Mike Ford, who’s a quality arm,” head coach Brett Boretti said.
Senior righty Pat Lowery was impressive on the mound, pitching into the seventh inning without allowing an earned run and striking out four. He had to deal with a tight strike zone, but despite four walks, Lowery induced a lot of ground balls to work out of a couple of bases-loaded jams.
“I felt pretty good today,” he said. “I had good defense behind me, I was a little wild, but I got under control and my pitches were working.”
The Lions added two insurance runs in the sixth inning, including one on junior left fielder Dario Pizzano’s third home run of the year, which moved him one away from tying the all-time Columbia record of 25 career home runs.
“He threw me a slider that hung over the plate and I just put my barrel on it, put a good swing on it, and it went,” Pizzano said.
Both Columbia junior pitcher Tim Giel and Princeton junior righty Zak Hermans were dominant at the start of the nightcap. The Lions struck first in the fourth inning, when Ferraresi, following an intentional walk of Pizzano, hit a two-run double to right center. But Hermans was able to escape a bases-loaded jam to end the threat, getting junior second baseman Nick Crucet to hit into a double play. Hermans and Tigers’ senior reliever Ryan Makis did not allow another run for the rest of the game.
“I think he was just doing a really good job of mixing his pitches, and throwing them all for strikes,” Eisen said. “So it just was tough trying to get a good pitch to hit.”
Meanwhile, Giel struck out seven, while allowing no walks and two earned runs in 5 2/3 innings. Trailing 2-1 heading into the sixth, Princeton rallied for two runs after an error on a routine ground ball by Crucet allowed the leadoff man to reach. Outfielder John Mishu followed with an RBI double on the very next pitch and with two outs, catcher/first baseman Tyler Servais singled him home to put Princeton on top, 3-2, for good.
Even though the Lions were eliminated from winning a division title by Cornell’s win early on Saturday, their bats came to life as they scored eight runs in both games on Sunday, winning game one, 8-7, and the nightcap, 8-5.
The next day, game one got off to an inauspicious start for the Light Blue, as it committed three errors in the opening inning, allowing Princeton to score three runs on just one hit. But Columbia battled back in the bottom of the inning, scorching five doubles off junior Matt Bowman to take a 4-3 lead.
“I think with Bowman, we were aggressive, he’s a guy who likes his fastball, likes to come at you and we were aggressive with that,” Boretti said.
Sophomore pitcher David Speer struggled with his control over his 4 1/3 innings of work, but he struck out six and only allowed three earned runs.
“Dave grinded it—he didn’t have his best stuff today,” Boretti said. “We kicked the ball early on him, that definitely didn’t help things.”
After the Tigers scored a run in each of the third and fifth innings to tie the game at five, freshman designated hitter Robb Paller delivered his second RBI double of the game in the bottom of the inning to retake the lead for the Lions. Princeton recovered to tie the game on an RBI single by Mishu in the sixth inning and took its first lead since the first inning on a two-out RBI double by Blake Thomsen that landed just out of Ferraresi’s reach in right-center field in the seventh.
But the Lions would come back once again in the bottom of the final inning. After allowing a leadoff single, Bowman was relieved by sophomore Michael Fagan, who walked Pizzano and Ferraresi to load the bases with nobody out. After a Paller strike out, senior center fielder Billy Rumpke grounded a fastball into center field for a base hit to tie the game, even though Pizzano was cut down at the plate trying to score the winning run.
“I was looking all fastballs because that guy had a lot of walks on the year, he was throwing a lot of fastballs,” Rumpke said. “I got ahead 3-1, fouled one off, and got another fastball that I hit in play.”
After another four-pitch walk to reload the bases and with Crucet at the plate, Fagan uncorked a fastball that sailed all the way to the backstop, allowing Ferraresi to dive into home with the game-winning run.
The Lions’ bats carried the momentum into game two. Columbia rallied for five runs in the first three innings. Eight of the nine Columbia starters had at least one hit in the game, as Crucet was a home run shy of the cycle.
“The scouting report said they were going to be in the zone,” Crucet said. “By the fourth game, we were used to seeing the ball in the zone, our coach was telling us to be aggressive. That’s what I did, saw the ball in the zone, got good bat on it, I got lucky.”
After cutting the deficit to 8-5, Princeton got the tying run to the plate in the ninth inning after an error and a walk. But freshman David Spinosa induced a double play to quell the threat and earn his fourth save of the season.
By winning three games against Princeton this weekend, the Lions put a serious crimp in the Tigers’ hopes of repeating as champions, since the Tigers now need to win all four games against Cornell next weekend in order to reclaim the division crown.
“It’s always good to beat the defending champs,” Boretti said. “To get it here at our home field and take it to them, it’s good.”