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Senior catcher Liam McGill slugged four home runs in 2019.

Columbia baseball is set to embark on a 13-game road trip to begin its 2020 slate after falling short of Ivy League glory last year in a heartbreaking loss to Harvard. This season will present unique challenges to the Light Blue, which lost a number of key pieces that powered its 2019 team to a 13-8 Ivy League record.

The team dropped two games to Harvard in the Ivy League Championship Series, its last loss during an 11-inning heartbreaker that the Crimson won 8-6. With this defeat, the Lions failed to repeat the success of 2018, when they won the program’s 14th Ivy League Championship.

However, as head coach Brett Borett enters his 15th season, he says the team is entirely focused on the task ahead.

“I don’t think we think a lot about last year. When you’re a competitor, you’re always motivated to win a championship. I think guys have done a good job in the spring and they’re ready to get started.”

In 2020, the Lions will spar against Fresno State, Nebraska, East Carolina, and Duke, four teams that qualified for the 2019 NCAA Regional Tournament. However, the team faces the disadvantage of a number of graduated star players.

Chandler Bengston, CC ’19, is one of those players, who posted a 1.000 OPS and 11 home runs over 124 at bats. Bengston retired with 31 homers over his four years, the highest in program history. His departure left an important source of power to fill in Columbia’s lineup. The closest comparison to Bengston is senior catcher Liam McGill, who batted a .834 OPS with four home runs in 2019.

Another hole to fill for the Light Blue comes with the loss of Josh Simpson, CC ’19, who threw a dominant 3.06 ERA over 61 innings in 2019. Simpson was drafted by the Miami Marlins over the summer, the first Lion to be drafted since 2016.

The road to success this year will start off with a significant challenge. Columbia will play a consecutive four-game series against Fresno State and Nebraska before a three-game set facing East Carolina and two contests against Duke.

Fresno State is coming off a commanding 2019 campaign, going 40-16-1 prior to falling to No. 1 Stanford in the NCAA Regionals. Duke will also prove tough for the Lions, as the Blue Devils went 35-27 before losing to the eventual 2019 NCAA champion Vanderbilt in the NCAA Regionals.

Though Boretti understands the difficulties that come with playing these opponents, he emphasizes that a hard schedule will prepare the team for the rest of the year while simultaneously giving new players valuable experience.

“What I think about is giving [the team] as best a baseball experience as we can. You go in with a growth mindset of trying to continue to improve, and we’ll take our lumps along the way I’m sure, but this is just part one of the season. We got a long way to go.”

The Lions play the Fresno State Bulldogs on Friday, Feb. 28 in Fresno, CA. First pitch is at 9 p.m.

Staff writer Miles Schachner can be contacted at miles.schachner@columbiaspectator.com. Follow him on Twitter @milesschachner.

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