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Sophomore catcher Liam McGill has excelled in the two-hole this season, building on a strong first-year campaign.

Following stellar rookie years, sophomores Liam McGill and reigning 2017 Ivy League Rookie of the Year Julian Bury entered this season with extremely high expectations. But while they enjoyed similar levels of success as first-years, McGill and Bury’s seasons have played out differently from each other’s in 2018.

The Light Blue has once again climbed to the top of the Ivy League standings, as Columbia trails Yale by one game for the top spot in the conference. The Lions’ offense has stood out this season, posting a conference-leading 154 runs batted in and .366 on-base percentage.

Columbia’s similar success on offense last season was largely centered around last year’s Ivy League Player of the Year, senior shortstop Randell Kanemaru. Apart from the Lions’ star infielder, the team was bolstered by McGill and Bury, two underclassmen who outperformed expectations.

McGill and Bury both earned All-Ivy honors and had a batting average higher than .300 with 95 hits combined. The two accounted for 24 percent of Columbia’s offense and 20 percent of the team’s runs.

Bury’s stellar year on both defense and offense earned him the Ivy League Rookie of the Year Award as well as First-team All-Ivy Honors. Meanwhile, designated hitter McGill was awarded Second-team All-Ivy Honors.

“I think it’s hard to expect your guys to be freshman All-Americans,” head coach Brett Boretti said. “In the recruiting process we are trying to find guys who have talent, but guys from an intangible standpoint, have that fire, that want to compete. I think both of these guys are an example of that. They have fiery competitiveness and they hate losing.”

Last summer, both players looked to build on their strong first campaigns in the New England Summer Collegiate League and prepare for a larger role at Columbia in 2018. With the loss of First-team All-Ivy second baseman Kyle Bartleman, CC ’17, the Lions would demand even more from their stellar youngsters, Bury and McGill.

But despite his strong first year, Bury—who declined to comment for this piece—has failed to live up to expectations this season. Bury has hit just .237 with a .275 on-base percentage, compared to a .333 batting average and a .427 on base percentage just a season ago. Furthermore, Bury has 15 strikeouts this season with 13 games remaining, having struck out just 23 times last season.

Aminah Nassiff

In contrast, McGill has managed to improve upon his already stellar 2017 season. McGill is currently hitting .326 with a .511 slugging percentage compared to his .338 batting average and .466 slugging percentage last season. The Rhode Island native has also already matched his home run total from last season with 12 games left in 2018.

“I talked to the coaches after the [2017] year and they didn’t actually have any expectations for me, which is fine,” McGill said. “They just saw it as a good year in itself, but I always knew I could do that and I always had confidence in myself.”

McGill’s consistency has given the Lions a solid one-two punch atop their lineup, as coupled with Kanemaru’s .319 average and .457 slugging percentage, opposing pitchers have seen plenty of difficulties.

McGill has excelled beyond his stellar rookie status and has blossomed into one of the best players on the team. With the Ivy League Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year on the roster last season McGill flew under the radar, but he has now proved himself as one of the best players in the Ivy League.

“Individually, yes, I want to succeed––but at the end of the day, I want to win a championship,” McGill said. “That’s probably my main goal and I think that’s everyone’s goal.”

Bury, meanwhile, has seen his spot in the lineup drop throughout the season, as he most recently batted in the sixth spot.

Bury has begun to climb out of his early season slump, as he was named Ivy League player of the week after going 8-for-16 at Brown last weekend, but it is unlikely that he will be able to match his success from last season. And despite Bury’s challenges at the plate, he still makes notable contributions with solid fielding, speed on the base paths, and bursts like his three-for-four performance last Saturday.

“Right now, Julian is one of our hottest hitters. … The point is that early in the year the word struggle in baseball can mean many different things,” Boretti said. “Early in the season, quite frankly, I think a lot of things weren’t going his way as far as where the ball was going and some of the plays that were getting made against him.”

Both McGill and Bury faced extremely high expectations heading into the 2018 season, but Bury has earned much more attention from opposing pitchers in the conference as a whole. As of late, Bury has begun to come out of his slump, which makes the Lions’ offense even more dynamic headed into the final series of the season.

The Lions will host Princeton this weekend, looking to remain in the running for an Ivy title.

anthony.montes@columbiaspectator.com | @CUSpecSports

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