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First-year second baseman Will Savage leads Columbia with a .341 average. He is also among the team leaders in on-base percentage.

The baseball team will head to Ithaca, N.Y., this weekend to take on Cornell in what will be a matchup between the last two Ivy League champions.

Columbia (17-15, 9-3 Ivy), the 2013 Ancient Eight champion, is coming off a solid win over St. John's and has now won nine straight. The Big Red (15-15, 6-6 Ivy) finished atop the conference in 2012, but has lost its last four games. Even so, Light Blue head coach Brett Boretti said that Cornell will still be a difficult opponent.

“They've got a good, veteran club. They've got some new guys in the lineup that have been good, they've got good depth on the hill,” Boretti said. “So it's going to be a tough battle.”

Cornell began its Ivy League campaign with a 5-3 record, but stumbled against league-leading Penn (20-12, 11-1 Ivy), dropping three of four to the Quakers last weekend. The Big Red has fallen three games behind Columbia for second place in the Lou Gehrig Division.

Cornell's pitching remains its strength. The Big Red's staff leads the Ivy League with a 3.60 ERA and has held its opponents to a .254 batting average. 

Lefty Michael Byrne leads Cornell with a 3-2 record and a 1.33 ERA. Junior righty Brent Jones has also been solid, posting a 2.80 ERA. 

The Big Red also boasts a strong lineup, which ranks in the top three in the Ivy League in batting average, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage. Designated hitter Ryan Karl spearheads Cornell's attack with 32 hits, six home runs, and a .302 batting average. In addition, all-Ivy outfielder JD Whetsel is a dangerous catalyst at the top of the order. He leads the team in walks and on-base percentage, and has stolen 11 bases on the season.

“He's a good player, he's kind of their fire-starter,” Boretti said of Whetsel. “We've got to do a good job of giving him nothing for free and making him earn his way on.”

But Columbia will trot out some of the league's best arms against Cornell's offense.

Sophomore righties George Thanopolous and Kevin Roy, and senior lefty David Speer have all been outstanding. Thanopolous boasts an undefeated 4-0 record and leads the Lions' starters with a 2.70 ERA, while Speer boasts a 2.94 ERA and has only walked two batters all season. Roy has really come on in conference play, walking two and striking out 19 batters in 18 innings. 

Boretti said that senior Joey Donino, who has been inconsistent, also looked good in one inning of work against the Red Storm and will still be starting this weekend for Columbia.

“I think he threw really well yesterday [Wednesday],” Boretti said. “He was throwing the crap out of it there for that inning.”

The Lions have also hit their stride offensively, outscoring their opponents 44-17 in the last five games. First-year second baseman Will Savage leads the team with a .341 batting average and has nine hits in his last five games. Junior center fielder Jordan Serena has contributed seven hits and six stolen bases over the same stretch. 

The first doubleheader begins on Saturday at noon in Ithaca, N.Y. The second twin bill begins at noon on Sunday.

Eli Schultz contributed reporting. | @CUSpecSports

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