Columbia baseball has one of the most storied histories of any team that has worn the Light Blue. Beginning in 1888, the program has captured 14 Ivy League titles and produced 11 major-league players, including legendary New York Yankees’ first baseman Lou Gehrig.
But in terms of Ivy League dominance, Columbia baseball’s 2010s are the most successful 10-year span in program history. Under the transformative helm of head coach Brett Boretti, the Lions won four Ivy championships throughout the decade, including the program’s first three-peat from 2013 to 2015.
For the first three years of the decade, though, the Lions fell short of the Ivy crown. In 2010, a fearsome offense headlined by Dario Pizzano, CC ’13, and Alexander Aurrichio, CC ’12, who hit 12 and 13 home runs, respectively, looked poised to bring home an Ancient Eight title. But Dartmouth bested Columbia in a three-game Ivy championship series, stunning the Lions, whose 15-5 Ivy record was the best in the conference.
2011 and 2012 were transition years for the Light Blue. In 2011, Columbia posted its only sub-.500 Ivy record throughout the 2010s, going 9-11 against Ancient Eight opponents. Over both 2011 and 2012, Pizzano continued to bully opposing pitchers, hitting an unstoppable average of 1.058 OPS with 13 home runs over the two years. Throughout both seasons, the Lions failed to make the Ivy League Championship Series. However, this two-year blip preceded the most memorable stretch of Columbia’s 2010s.
The three consecutive Ivy League championships from 2013 to 2015 represent the most successful period in Columbia baseball’s history. Led by an impressively balanced core of hitters and pitchers, the Lions cruised to a 47-13 Ivy record over these years, capping off each season with a win in the ILCS. Read the section “Digging triple: An Ivy League dynasty” for more on the historic run.
After 2015, the Light Blue’s command of the Ivy League declined. The Lions did not reach the ILCS in 2016 or 2017, but another powerful core of players emerged in 2018. That year, Columbia won its fifth Ancient Eight crown under Boretti, powered by stars Randell Kanemaru, CC ’18; Harrison Egly, CC ’18; and Joe Engel, CC ’19.
Since 2018, Columbia has not replicated its earlier success in the decade. The Lions lost a contested Ivy championship to Harvard in 2019, and 2020’s slate had barely kicked off before the Ivy League canceled all spring sports due to COVID-19. In what would have been a contending year for the Lions, the team lost some of its key seniors, like Leo Pollack, Liam McGill, and Julian Bury, after the Ivy League ruled that senior athletes would not maintain eligibility for next season.
Catcher: Liam McGill
Liam McGill, CC ’20, has played numerous positions in his time as a Lion, including catcher, designated hitter, and the outfield. Across all of these positions, his bat’s steady production has been a constant for Columbia since 2017, when he was a Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American. Beginning with that rookie campaign, he has made the second-team All-Ivy every year and claims a career slash line of .316/.411/.462 with 83 total RBIs.
First baseman: Chandler Bengtson
Chandler Bengtson, CC ’19, holds the coveted title of the most prolific slugger in Columbia history: The first baseman retired with 31 home runs, the highest total in program history. He began to find his power stroke his sophomore year and would only grow more consistent as he got older, earning a first-team All-Ivy nod his junior year and a second-team All-Ivy spot his senior season.
Second baseman: Will Savage
Will Savage, CC ’16, was a remarkably consistent force for the Lions before he was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 2016. His selection in the 16th round was the highest a Columbia player has been picked since 2004. He started his career with the Light Blue by winning Ivy League Rookie of the Year in 2014, picking up the Blair Bat award for the highest batting average of a player throughout Ancient Eight play, boasting a mark of .414. He retired with 52 stolen bases to go along with a career slash of .330/.433/.439.
Third baseman: Randell Kanemaru
Randell Kanemaru, CC ’18, was an unequivocal centerpiece of the Lions’ success throughout the 2010s, as the California native launched one of the most impressive careers in Columbia history since he burst onto the scene as a first-year. That first 2015 season, Kanemaru won honors as the Ivy League Rookie of the Year award and as a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American. He would only build on this success in his junior season when he batted .395/.435/.625 and fielded .913, winning Ivy League Player of the Year. Kanemaru retired with the longest on-base streak in Columbia history, reaching base safely in 46 consecutive games.
Shortstop: Joe Engel
Though Joe Engel, CC ’19, began to blossom during his years as an upperclassman, he was a fixture at shortstop for Columbia since 2017. In those junior and senior years, Engel batted a combined .813 OPS with 59 runs scored, earning him consecutive first-team All-Ivy awards. His .956 career fielding percentage completes his well-rounded profile.
Left fielder: Dario Pizzano
For the three years Dario Pizzano spent at Columbia before he was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in 2012, he was an indomitable force. The outfielder was awarded first-team All-Ivy all three years, while also collecting an Ivy League Co-Rookie of the Year in 2010 and the Ivy League Player of the Year title in 2012. He retired with a .364 batting average and 25 home runs, as well as the second-highest slugging percentage in Columbia history at .647.
Center fielder: Julian Bury
Julian Bury, CC ’20, has established himself as an all-around player since his breakout rookie year. That season, Bury became the fifth Lion ever to win Ivy League Rookie of the Year, while also earning a first-team All-Ivy designation to show for his 50 hits in 150 at-bats. He retires from Ivy League play with a career .296 clip and .991 fielding percentage.
Right fielder: Gus Craig
Gus Craig, SEAS ’14, was the fourth Lion to be awarded the Ivy League Player of the Year award, which he took home as a co-winner in 2015. During that year, the Light Blue outfielder blasted nine home runs and a .598 slugging percentage, leading the team to its third consecutive Ancient Eight title. This dominant senior season built on his junior campaign, when he hit six home runs, leading the team.
Designated hitter: Joey Falcone
The dominant 2015 hitting performance of Joey Falcone, GS ’15, lands him a spot on the all-decade team. The former member of the USMC Infantry hit .323/.399/.615 that year, and his 19 doubles and 54 RBI place him at second and fifth on the Columbia all-time single-season leaderboard. Falcone was then only the second player in Lion history to be awarded All-American status, as the NCBWA tabbed him for the second team.
Starting pitcher: David Speer
David Speer, CC ’14, led one of the most exceptional careers ever for a Columbia pitcher. The lefty threw 231 innings for a 2.96 ERA in Light Blue, but his career was highlighted by his overpowering senior season. That 2014 season, he won the award for Ivy League Pitcher of the Year, posting an unhittable 10.7-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the process. He was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in 2014 and has worked his way up the organization, earning an invite to major league spring training this year.
Starting pitcher: Pat Lowery
Pat Lowery, CC ’12, earned a fearsome reputation in the Ivy League after his 2010 season, during which he tossed four complete games and a 3.46 ERA as Columbia’s ace. He won the Ivy League Pitcher of the Year award that year and would go on to post a career ERA of 3.56 over 192.1 innings. He was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in 2012.
2013 began with a similar footprint to most Columbia baseball seasons. The Lions opened their schedule with a few road trips against some of the country’s best, stealing a win from Arizona and UCF and returning to New York with a 2-11 record to kick off their home slate. Then, the Light Blue caught fire.
The team went on a five-game winning streak, then a seven-game tear, and finally another seven-game stretch of victories that carried them into NCAA regional play. The Lions’ surge was spearheaded by a deep group of talented players like Alex Black, CC ’13; David Speer, CC ’14; and Jordan Serena, CC ’14, just three of the nine Lions who garnered All-Ivy recognition at the end of the season.
Speer was the ace in the powerful Columbia pitching staff, as the left-hander combined with starters Joey Donino, CC ’14, and Tim Giel, SEAS ’13, to toss 194 innings with a 2.75 ERA. Black mashed eight home runs with a .457 OBP, and Serena stole 27 bases, tied for third-best in program history.
Columbia rolled through its Ivy League competition all year, earning a program-high of 16 Ancient Eight wins before sweeping Dartmouth in the ILCS, winning the Ancient Eight title and punching their ticket to the NCAA Regionals. There, the Light Blue rallied for a 13-inning win against New Mexico, the first Columbia win in NCAA Tournament history. The next day, the Lions fell to Arizona State, eliminating them from the tournament and ending a historic year.
With Ivy League glory and postseason experience fresh in their minds, the Lions embarked on another dominant campaign in 2014, in which they secured a 15-5 Ivy Record and 29 total wins. Their returning stars Serena and Speer were complemented by breakout studs in Will Savage, CC ’16; George Thanopoulos, CC ’16; and Kevin Roy, CC ’16.
Speer was untouchable most of the year, throwing a 1.86 ERA in 87 innings, striking out 75 batters, and securing six complete games. Savage won Ivy League Rookie of the Year with a .320/.386/.405 slash, and Serena continued to terrorize opponents on the basepaths, swiping 25 more bases with an impressive .305/.401/.385 batting line.
Again, the Lions barely broke a sweat in the Ivy League Championship Series, where they swept Dartmouth, dismantling the Big Green for the title in two consecutive years and earning the first back-to-back championship since the 1970s. In the NCAA Regionals, however, Columbia couldn’t manage a win. The Light Blue lost two games in devastating fashion to Texas Tech and Bethune Cookman, each contest decided by one run.
Already established as the authority in Ivy League play, Columbia baseball reached new heights in 2015. The team set a program record of 34 wins and cruised through the Ancient Eight to another 16-4 record. The myriad end-of-season awards demonstrated the complete strength of the Lions’ roster: Gus Craig, SEAS ’14, won Ivy League Player of the Year; Randell Kanemaru, CC ’18, won Ivy League Rookie of the Year; head coach Brett Boretti won Ivy League Coach of the Year; and Joey Falcone, GS ’15, was recognized as an All-American.
The Light Blue’s fearsome offense scored 6.2 runs per game and knocked 51 home runs throughout the season, and each starter in Columbia’s lineup had an OBP above .300. Roy and Thanopoulos threw the most innings for the Lions, and the starters combined for 114 strikeouts over 140.2 innings.
In the postseason, the Lions reached an immortal status as they completed what no other Columbia baseball team had ever done: three consecutive Ancient Eight crowns. In the Ivy League Championship Series, Columbia faced Dartmouth, a familiar foe that the Light Blue had just defeated for two straight years. This time, the Big Green took the Lions to three games, but Columbia prevailed 10-7 in the deciding game, riding four home runs to victory. Columbia became only the sixth team to win three straight titles in Ivy history.
After they clinched a berth to the 2015 NCAA Regionals, the Light Blue set their sights on a deep playoff push on the national stage. The Lions then won three games in Coral Gables, Florida, besting East Carolina, FIU, and Miami to reach a final contest against the Hurricanes for a bid to the NCAA Super Regionals. In the first game against Miami, Columbia shocked the No. 3 seed, shutting the Hurricanes out for the first time all year in a 3-0 victory. However, with a trip to Super Regionals on the line, Miami laid down the hammer, defeating the Lions 21-3.
The 2013-2015 stretch propelled the Lions beyond the spotlight of the Ivy League, though it remains to be seen whether Columbia can advance beyond NCAA Regionals. After three consecutive championships and a surprising push in the NCAA tournament, the Light Blue earned national recognition, and the USA Today Coaches Poll ranked the team No. 35 in the nation. This historic period put the rest of the Ivy League on notice, as the Lions hoisting the trophy at the end of the year became more of an expectation than a feat.
At the start of the 2006 season, head coach Brett Boretti took the reins of Columbia baseball, inheriting a program that had not managed a winning conference record in 11 years. Since that moment, he has catapulted the program to previously undiscovered heights, becoming the most successful Lions baseball coach of all time.
Boretti holds five Ivy League titles to his name, the most out of any coach in the program’s history. But the statistic most illustrative of Boretti’s unmatched success is the wide chasm between his teams’ Ivy record and those of other Light Blue coaches. He is the only skipper in Columbia history to post an Ancient Eight record above .500, as his 155-106 mark over 15 years is by far the most dominant.
Much of the winning under Boretti can be attributed to the way he revolutionized Columbia’s recruiting strategy. Rather than adhere to the previous norm of remaining in the Northeast to scout talent, Boretti began targeting the “Sun States” of California, Florida, and Texas, which are brimming with talented prospects.
On the strength of Boretti’s character and Columbia’s name, the coach’s gamble has paid dividends. The program’s upshot has skyrocketed on the back of Boretti, who has assembled and managed the players who brought Columbia four Ivy League titles throughout the 2010s.