Sports | Sports Columns

YOUNG: Good fortune, aggressiveness key to Lions’ sweep of Princeton

  • Youjin Jenny Jang / Senior Staff Photographer
    Throwing Heat | Senior lefty David Speer struck out 10 batters over the weekend, helping the Lions sweep both doubleheaders.
  • Youjin Jenny Jang / Senior Staff Photographer
    Base Thief | Junior center fielder Jordan Serena headlines a Lions squad that depends on stolen bases to disrupt opposing pitchers.

For the first time since last year’s Ivy League Championship Series, the weather last weekend at Robertson Field was perfect for baseball. Like in the championship series, the Lions put together a sweep, delivering in every facet of the game to squash Princeton in all four games and prove themselves to be serious title contenders.

Offensively, the Light Blue ripped 46 hits­—and with the warm weather causing the ball to carry, 17 of them went for extra bases, including four home runs in Saturday’s nightcap.

The Lions executed their plan to be aggressive on the bases all weekend as well, stealing 14 bases. First-year second baseman Will Savage flashed his speed all weekend, including a play during the first contest when, after nearly getting picked off, he drew an errant throw, advanced two bases, and scored the decisive run on a fielder’s choice. In the final game of the weekend, Columbia executed a double steal that allowed sophomore left fielder Robb Paller to make his way home.

Defensively, junior Jordan Serena had a game-saving assist in center field, senior catcher Mike Fischer did a great job of blocking pitches, and senior shortstop Aaron Silbar made several great plays ranging in the hole.

But Columbia’s bread and butter has been its effectiveness on the mound, and last weekend was no different. Senior left-hander David Speer amassed 10 strikeouts and sophomore right-hander Kevin Roy allowed only one hit in seven innings. In fact, as Fischer noted, the Light Blue’s starting staff has pitched so well, the bullpen has hardly had an opportunity to show off its great group of arms.

Sweeping two doubleheaders against one opponent in a single weekend is no easy task, and the Tigers, who had title aspirations of their own, are no pushovers. Princeton, which historically has a very good baseball program—four alumni currently play in the major leagues—had never previously lost four games in one weekend to Columbia.

So all this proves that Columbia is going to repeat, right? Not so fast.

This season, like most others before it, has also proved just how volatile playing baseball in the Ancient Eight can be. One little thing can have drastic effects.

For instance, look at this weekend’s first and only close game, which seemed to dictate the other three games. What if the Lions, down to their final strike, did not rally for the win? If Princeton pitcher Michael Fagan threw strike three to David Vandercook instead of hitting him and did not allow Robb Paller to stroke his walk-off two-run double, the weekend—and, by extension, the Lou Gehrig Division race—could have played out completely differently (although head coach Brett Boretti and the Lions likely wouldn’t admit it). The demoralized Tigers team made several embarrassing mistakes after game 1, like trying to walk off the field with only two outs multiple times. Those plays may not have cost Princeton, but other mistakes did. If the Tigers hadn’t been demoralized by the loss in game 1, who knows? 

Anyway, there is still a lot to be decided in the Ivy League. The Lions trail Penn by two games with eight games left. Anything can happen next weekend at Cornell, the team that knocked the Lions out of title contention two years ago via a couple of one-run games. Furthermore, Columbia has to root for the team it just routed, Princeton, to fight off Penn this weekend in New Jersey. But, because of a rescheduled midweek doubleheader today against Harvard, Princeton will be playing Penn on short rest and may be at a disadvantage, as it will have played 10 Ivy games (half of its league schedule) in nine days by the end of the weekend. 

Regardless, if Columbia can win two games in Ithaca this weekend, the team can at least ensure that it puts its destiny in its own hands, even if that means needing a four-game sweep of the Quakers.

Ryan Young is a Columbia College junior majoring in economics-statistics. He is a sports broadcaster for WKCR. Roar Ryan Roar runs biweekly.

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