Hooray for sports!!

High five the baseball team next time you see them–they’re Ivy League Champs!  Sports fan Luca Marzorati tells the triumphant tale…

For the first time in six years, the Columbia baseball team earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament, as the Lions won back-to-back games against Dartmouth on Saturday for an 11th Ivy League Championship. After a 6-5 extra-inning victory in Game 1, Columbia’s offense came alive late in Game 2, battering the Big Green bullpen for 8 late runs to take a 12–5 win and extinguish the need for a Sunday rubber match.

The Lions have now won 24 of their last 32 games, and are a record-best 18–4 against Ivy League opponents. Though the team has certainly played its best baseball over the last month, this championship may stem from Columbia’s formative early-season struggles just as much as their recent hot streak.

Just six weeks ago, the Lions found themselves at 2–11, losers of four straight, after a furious late-inning comeback by the University of Miami, a program with four NCAA baseball championships. Columbia’s season-opening road trips may have helped the team’s frequent-flyer account, but did little in the way of wins. Lamar, Arizona, and Miami—3 of Columbia’s first 4 opponents—all are currently in the top 50 in college baseball, and won 7 of 8 games against the Light Blue.

Of course, degree of difficulty is meaningless in baseball, but starting the season with such ruthless competition surely helped the club when it came time to play easier contests in the Ivy League. It is worthy to note that Dartmouth, which finishes the season with a 32–9 record, opted for a cupcake schedule before league play began. Though the Big Green won 12 of their first 13, routs of Division II Slippery Rock or Division III Vassar seem trivial when compared to the Lions’ travails.

On Saturday, Game 1 looked promising for spectators, untroubled by clouds, and for Columbia head coach Bret Boretti, who got to start his unquestioned ace, junior David Speer. Though the lefty was hit hard in the first inning—the two-run home run allowed three batters into the game was Speer’s first long ball allowed this season—he soon settled in, and sat down 16 straight Dartmouth batters. After Columbia’s Nick Crucet tied the game with a two-run double, the Lions took the lead on an error in the bottom of the second. The Lions were up 5-3 after seven innings, but Dartmouth crept back, taking advantage of wild pitches and stolen bases, and pushed the game to extra frames.

In the tenth inning, the Big Green loaded the bases with no outs, but freshman reliever Kevin Roy evinced veteran poise in working out of the jam. Columbia junior Mike Fischer, not known for his bat, led off the following half-inning with a ground-rule double. Then, on a 2-2 pitch, Gus Craig knocked a single into left-center, scoring Fischer and spurring the Light Blue faithful, packed into Satow Stadium on a stunning spring day, to breathe a sigh of relief heard across the Harlem River.

In Game 2, the Columbia offense demonstrated how far it had come since the start of the year. Dartmouth’s starting pitcher, senior Michael Johnson, had shut down the Lion bats on March 31, allowing just 2 earned runs across 7.1 innings in a Big Green win. On Saturday, Columbia batters reached base in every frame, and Johnson lasted just 5 innings, allowing 4 runs before ceding the game to the bullpen. There, Dartmouth had more trouble: up 5–4 after 6 innings, the Big Green could not stop the floodgates from opening, as Columbia put up 6 runs in the 7th inning and 2 more in the 9th.

The fans who stuck around on a beautiful Saturday afternoon surely got what they wanted—two Columbia victories, and the first automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, which begins on May 31. Yet perhaps what made this victory, and the Lions’ season, happened far from Marble Hill or Morningside, in that string of tough losses against stiff competition across the Sun Belt. But, as the victorious Light Blue careened on to the field and assembled for their snapshot with the Ivy League trophy, this question seemed far from their minds.

Sweet victory via CU Athletics