Story courtesy of Cornell Athletic Communications.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Senior Brandon Lee had his second consecutive three-hit day, but the Cornell baseball team's historic run into the NCAA Regionals came to close on Saturday with a 10-6 loss to East Carolina at North Carolina's Boshamer Stadium.
Lee was 3-for-4 with a run, an RBI and a walk, and Tom D'Alessandro was 3-for-5 with a run and two RBI on another day in which the Big Red bats put a dent in a pitching staff of national prominence. Ben Swinford also had a pair of RBI from the No. 9 spot of the order, giving fourth-seeded Cornell a total of 25 hits over its two days at the NCAA Chapel Hill Regional. Eleven of the Big Red's 12 hits on Saturday came against East Carolina ace Kevin Brandt. The lefty entered the game with an ERA of 1.85, but Cornell tagged him for six runs – four earned – before he was chased in the fifth inning. Lefty reliever Tyler Joyner earned the win with 4.2 innings of scoreless relief, surrendering just one hit.
"It's a disappointing end to our season. We want to play as long as we can, but we ran into a little better team today," said Bill Walkenbach, the Ted Thoren Head Coach of Baseball. "We didn't do a couple little things here and there to keep them from scoring runs. I was pleased with the way we swung the bat, very pleased with the effort of our team. I was pleased with the energy and determination they showed and what they showed all season. It was no surprise to me that we would come out, do well, and compete hard."
After a quiet first inning, both teams were able to put three runners on base in the second – though none of them scored. A pair of one-out singles were followed by a four-pitch walk to load the bases for East Carolina. Cornell starter Brian McAfee was able to settle down from there, getting a first-pitch flyout to shallow right from Jack Reinheimer for the second out and a flyout to right-center from Mike Ussery to retire the side. Frank Hager had Cornell's first hit in the bottom of the frame on a line-drive single up the middle, but he was erased by Brandt's ninth pickoff of the season. Lee and D'Alessandro followed with singles on consecutive pitches before a flyout ended the inning.
"I was seeing the ball well today," Lee said. "I was fortunate to have some balls fall for me. Myself and my fellow seniors set out to change some things and change how we play the game. Obviously it's disappointing to come here and lose two games like that where we had some dogfights. It's a little bittersweet. It's been a great year, and a great time at Cornell."
The Pirates got on the board in the third on a home run from Drew Reynolds. It was just the eighth long ball surrendered by the Big Red on the season. But McAfee was once again able to buckle down with runners on base to minimize the damage, inducing a double play to get out of the jam. East Carolina tacked on another run in the fourth, but McAfee nabbed a comebacker to record the final out in the top of the fourth to leave a runner stranded at third.
Cornell came back with a big bottom half of the inning, scoring four runs in methodical station-to-station baseball to take its first lead of the regional. Brian Billigen led off with an infield hit, then Chris Cruz was plunked with a pitch. Hager laid down a sacrifice bunt, but an error on the fielder allowed him to reach first and load the bases. That brought Lee to the plate for the first of seven consecutive at-bats in the inning with the sacks full. Lee drove in the first run with a single to left-center. After a lineout, Swinford singled up the middle to tie the game – improving his mark with the bases loaded to 4-for-6 on the season. A fielder's choice accounted for the second out, then Marshall Yanzick drove in the fourth run by getting plunked with an 0-2 pitch.
The lead was shortlived, though, as East Carolina countered with a five-run fifth to take a 7-4 lead. Three of the runs were unearned after the Big Red's third error of the weekend while fielding a bunt, this play allowing the first run of the frame to cross the plate. The next two batters were retired, but earned they each earned an RBI by pushing runners home from third. Four straight two-out singles followed to plate the Pirates' seventh run before Connor Kaufmann – making his first relief appearance of the season – retired the 10th and final batter of the side.
But, just like the day before against North Carolina, Cornell would not go away quietly. Cruz led off with a single to right, then Lee hit a one-out double to give the Big Red two runners in scoring position. For the third straight time, D'Alessandro singled on the first pitch of his at-bat – this time driving in Cruz. Next up was Tatum, who drew a walk to load the bases again. East Carolina pulled Brandt at that point in favor of Joyner. For the second time on the day, the Big Red would then drive in a run by getting hit by a pitch when Swinford took one off the ankle.
The left-handed Joyner then settled into a groove and retired the next eight Big Red batters, allowing the Pirates to once again rebuild a lead with three unearned runs in the seventh. That proved to be enough of a cushion, even as the Big Red put two runners on in the ninth before the final out was recorded. Freshman Kellen Urbon finished the game on the mound for the Big Red, working 2.2 innings while surrendering only an unearned run.
"Both games this tournament, we needed that extra base hit with bases loaded to put us over the top," Walkenbach said. "We just didn't get it. That's baseball for you."
Cornell closed its season 31-17-1, setting a program record for victories in a season. It was just the second time in the team's 143-year history that it advanced to the NCAA tournament.