Despite one of Columbia’s best conference finishes in program history, the Lions baseball team fell to Dartmouth in the Ivy League Championship Series this past weekend. After crushing the Big Green in game one, Dartmouth forced a tiebreaker with a big 15-10 win in Saturday’s nightcap. Columbia led for a short time in the deciding game three, but the Big Green’s timely hitting led it to its second consecutive Ivy title. Looking back on 2010, the Lions displayed all the makings of a championship team, and while they ultimately fell short of the championship, fans have reasons to look forward to next season.
With hopes that the 2010 campaign would bring them good fortune, the Lions opened up the season in Las Vegas with four games against a formidable UNLV team. After allowing double-digit runs en route to dropping the first three games of the series, Columbia roared back with an 8-6 win in the final game.
The following weekend, the team headed south to play Richmond and Virginia Tech. The Spiders took game one of the series in a low-scoring contest before Columbia’s offense posted its first crooked number of the season, scoring 12 times to win game two. As the spring break trip continued, the Lions dropped three straight games to Virginia Tech and Appalachian State before winning their second close game of the year by a score of 4-2 against Winthrop.
After beating Winthrop, the team participated in the Winthrop University Coca-Cola Classic Tournament, where they suffered three straight losses to Kent State, Winthrop, and Penn State before returning to Morningside Heights.
On Wednesday, March 24, the team slugged it out against local rival St. John’s in a game in which 43 runs crossed the plate. But Columbia rebounded from the 22-21 loss to open the season at Robertson Field with four straight victories against Bucknell.
After a 9-0 shutout of St. Peter’s, the Lions opened the Ivy League season at home against Yale and Brown on April 3. Displaying its propensity to win tight games, the team snuck past Yale twice on Saturday (by scores of 5-3 and 5-4) before splitting Sunday’s contests against Brown.
Taking three games out of four during Ivy League weekends came to be a common theme this season, and in the second week of Ivy play, the Lions split a pair of games against playoff rival Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H., to start the weekend. Columbia then hammered Harvard in two games in Cambridge, Mass., putting up a dominating score of 24-1 in the first game.
Returning to New York the following weekend, Columbia sent Princeton home on Saturday with two straight losses. On Sunday, April 18, the Lions lost game one and then beat the Tigers by five in game two to complete their third three-victory weekend against Ivy League foes.
Later that week, Columbia dropped a pair of games against Manhattan before heading farther upstate to take on Cornell in a Gehrig Division contest. On Saturday, Columbia lost a nail-biter by a score of 1-0 before claiming its own one-run victory later that day to take game two of the series. The Lions then won another close ballgame on Sunday morning, but Cornell struck back, handing Columbia a split weekend for the first time on the season.
As April turned into May, Columbia hosted Penn, needing just two games to clinch the Gehrig Division and earn a chance to play for the Ivy League title for the second time in three years. The Lions responded instantly, beating Penn 5-2 and 10-9 to win the division on Friday. On Saturday, Penn won the first game, and with home-field advantage on the line, the Lions took a 10-8 game for yet another three-win weekend.
Over in the Rolfe Division, Dartmouth cruised to a spot in the championship series after splitting a four-game series with Harvard to close the season. Two years ago, the Lions and the Big Green battled for the Ivy title in Hanover, and Columbia came out the victor in three games.
This season, the two teams clashed again in déjà vu fashion, as the clubs split Saturday’s doubleheader to force a decisive game three. The Light Blue came out of the gate on fire in game one with five runs in the first. Jon Eisen tripled and scored on a RBI single by Jason Banos before Dario Pizzano and Alex Ferrera teamed up for back-to-back jacks to put a big crooked number on the board.
Pat Lowery took the hill for the Lions and only faltered in the top of the second, in which he served up back-to-back homers to Jake Carlson and Zack Bellenger. The Lions tacked on two insurance runs in the fourth and six more in the fifth en route to a 13-2 lead.
Despite the big win in the series opener, Columbia’s pitching could not hold Dartmouth’s bats in the nightcap. The Big Green grabbed an early lead against Dan Bracey with four runs in their first two frames. The Lions knotted the score at four runs apiece in the top of the fourth as Ferrera and Dean Forthun drove in two runs. Over the next five innings, the teams traded runs fairly evenly, but James Wren muscled a grand slam to deep center field off Geoff Whitaker to cement a 15-10 Dartmouth victory.
The Big Green opened up the rubber match on Sunday with a sacrifice fly to plate one run in the first. The Lions surged back in the third and fourth innings for three combined runs, but Dartmouth struck right back with an onslaught of clutch two-out hitting. The Big Green extended its lead to 9-4 entering the top of the ninth, and more timely hitting plated an additional two runs to make it an 11-4 deficit. Ferrera led off the bottom frame with a double to deep left and came home on a Forthun sacrifice fly that nearly cleared the center field wall. After Billy Rumpke went down looking at an 0-2 fastball, Nick Crucet hit a sharp liner to second that was snagged by Jeff Onstott.
With the win, Dartmouth clinched the Ivy title for the second consecutive season, and will have a month off before representing the Ivy League in the NCAA regionals.
While the Lions’ loss comes as a disappointment, the team’s many highlights in 2010 should leave fans with little reason to be ashamed. The Light Blue’s 26 wins this season marked the second most in the program’s history, and the team’s 14-6 Ivy League record is its best in recent years. While the ballclub is losing three seniors to graduation—Clay Bartlett, Dean Forthun, and Derek Squires—several impressive freshmen have proven worthy of filling the void.
Columbia’s first-rate 2010 campaign should give fans hope looking forward to next season, when the Lions will look to reclaim the Ivy title once again.