Twenty games might not have been enough to determine the Lou Gehrig Division’s representative in the Ivy League Championship Series, but it has been more than enough to make a strong statement about Columbia baseball.
Despite the program’s ability to develop quality players, I would not have completely pushed aside the idea that last year, the team was a little lucky to compile a program-record 16 Ivy wins, since many of them were by slim margins. But after watching the Lions in action in 2014, I can definitively say that is not the case, and the fact that the baseball program is able to match—and in this case, exceed—such lofty expectations in a sport that is so random makes me feel especially privileged to cover Columbia baseball.
Effective programs have a plan, and they execute. Head coach Brett Boretti puts pitching and defense first in recruiting, and it shows on the field.
On the mound, senior David Speer deserves to be the Ivy League Pitcher of the Year. Heading into Friday’s games, his 46-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio led all of Division I. (He proved to be mortal on Friday, allowing one whole walk, dropping the ratio to 53-to-3.) The Lions pitching staff also threw three straight shutouts at Cornell, which were instrumental in pulling even with the Penn Quakers coming into last weekend.
Defensively, every single position has been nothing short of fantastic, with senior shortstop Aaron Silbar, senior catcher Mike Fischer, and sophomore first baseman Nick Maguire leading the way. I won’t elaborate further since it would be a travesty if I surpassed my word count in my final column of the year.
More importantly, the Lions do the things that winning teams do. They take advantage of the opposition’s errors, force mistakes by being aggressive on the bases, and hustle on every play—just watch the second baseman and right fielder sprint to back up first base on routine ground balls. Their resilience and ability to “take it one game at a time” also helps them to win big games, none bigger than the must-win fourth game of this weekend when, under incredible pressure, senior Joey Donino tossed his best outing of Ivy League play.
So it is indeed no coincidence that Columbia has a chance to host the ILCS and earn 16 wins for the second straight season.
Although a return trip to the ILCS should be a sure thing for a team with 15 wins, unfortunately, the Lions cannot do anything about the Ivy League rule book. Columbia and Penn are clearly the two best teams in the Ancient Eight, and the fact that a team with 15 wins will not play for the title is a travesty. Even though Boretti acknowledges that the Lou Gehrig Division has not always been the dominant one and that such a disparity is cyclical, he has always been a proponent of a postseason tournament instead of the two-team ILCS. But the Ivy League is not one that embraces change.
There is no better example than the tiebreaker rule that determined the one-game playoff will be in Philadelphia, not New York, next weekend. After a head-to-head record (2-2 for both teams), the next determining factor for the playoff location is which team has the better record against the Ivy team with the next-best conference record. So, because the Quakers have a better record against Yale and Dartmouth—the two teams that could finish with the third-best conference record—they get to host. It would make far more sense if a team’s intra-division record decided who hosts the game to determine the division’s representative in the ILCS.
The good news for Columbia is that it has Speer, while the choice for Penn’s starter next week is not as clear after ace Connor Cuff struggled against the Light Blue on Friday.
But it’s one baseball game, and anything can happen. A Lions repeat would only be the exclamation point to cap their statement in 2014.
Ryan Young is a Columbia College junior majoring in economics-statistics. He is a sports broadcaster for WKCR. Roar Ryan Roar runs biweekly.