With eight games left to play in the Ivy League season, the Lions are facing a steep, uphill battle in their quest for a Lou Gehrig Division title.
The Light Blue dropped three of four this weekend at Cornell, and is now four games behind the division-leading Big Red and three games behind second-place Princeton. With the final games of the conference season quickly approaching, and the offense struggling to score runs in critical situations, Columbia desperately needs its pitching staff to continue performing at the high level that the Lions have come to expect from their arms.
Columbia’s 14-19 season record and disappointing 6-6 mark in conference play are certainly not the fault of the pitchers. Columbia ranks second in the Ancient Eight with a team ERA of 4.51, behind Cornell’s 3.38 and ahead of Harvard’s 4.85. Senior righty Pat Lowery is third among Ivy starters with a 2.79 ERA. Four of Columbia’s starters have ERAs under
Columbia’s pitching strength is apparent even when the team fails to pick up a win. In the Light Blue’s six conference losses, the starting pitching has been strong without exception. A Lions starter has yet to surrender more than four earned runs in an Ivy loss. In fact, no Columbia pitcher has given up more than four earned runs in any Ivy start.
The Cornell series was no exception. The Big Red offense leads the league in virtually every offensive category, including runs scored, batting average, RBIs, total bases, and slugging percentage, and it is tied for first in homers with Princeton. Nonetheless, Lowery put up six scoreless innings, and junior righty Tim Giel gave up just three earned runs in eight innings of work in Saturday’s games. On Sunday, sophomore lefty David Speer had a somewhat rough start, giving up four earned runs and one unearned in three innings, and junior righty Stefan Olson gave up one run in six innings in his start. But though the Lions starters shined against Cornell’s bats, the Big Red’s arms eclipsed them by entirely shutting down Columbia’s offense on Saturday, as the Lions scored only one run in two games. Two winnable games turned into losses, which happened again in game one on Sunday as a last-ditch Light Blue rally fell short.
Though the team lost, Columbia’s starters proved themselves against the Ivy League’s most dominant offense.
If what has happened thus far in conference play is any indication, the Lions can generally expect to be in a good position to win games. The starting pitchers have excelled at their role of keeping their team in the game, and they should continue to do so against Columbia’s remaining opponents.
Both Princeton and Penn are in the middle of the pack offensively. The Tigers and Quakers rank fourth and fifth, respectively, in the Ancient Eight in team batting average, though the Princeton lineup has shown enough power to be tied for the league lead in home runs.
Assuming the Lions continue to pitch well, the task of saving the season will fall to the Lions’ offense, which ranks last in its division in batting average, runs scored, slugging percentage, and home runs. The Lions have hit only 10 home runs as a team, while Princeton has 22, and Penn has 16. In terms of batting average, Columbia’s .263 clip is 15 points lower than Penn’s .278 mark and 17 below Princeton’s .280.
The Lions’ bats have shown potency on a couple of occasions. They put up 10 runs in a game at Harvard and 14 in a game versus Brown, and have hit well in nonconference games since Ivy play began. Columbia scored seven runs against Rutgers and nine against St. John’s.
But the Lions need to score when it counts in order to move up in the standings.
In the remaining games versus Princeton and Penn, the offense has an opportunity to prove itself and back up the pitchers. The Quakers’ 5.51 staff ERA is the second-highest in the conference, and the Tigers’ 5.48 is only slightly better.
The pitchers have been performing well all season, but the lack of consistent offensive production continues to plague the Light Blue. The Lions are hopeful that they can leave their hard-luck losses in the past and turn things around as the stretch run begins.
“Our guys are resilient. They’re able to put things behind ’em and move on and continue to compete,” head coach Brett Boretti said.