NEW YORK -- Columbia's doubleheader sweep of Yale on Saturday at Robertson Field had a little bit of everything for the loads of fans in attendance on a beautiful spring day in New York City. It had strong pitching, missed chances, late-inning heroics and 17 innings of gripping baseball as the Ivy League schedule began.
In the end, Columbia starters Pat Lowery and Tim Giel had strong outings on the hill and there was outstanding relief work by Geoff Whitaker and Derek Squires in each end of the twinbill. The strong pitching and timely hitting lifted Columbia to a 5-3 win on a walkoff two-run homer by Alexander Aurrichio in the opener and a 5-4 triumph in the nightcap to complete the sweep.
The first game also featured the return of junior center fielder Nick Cox to the Columbia lineup. Cox had fought through an injury early this season and came back with a bang on Saturday. In his first at-bat back in the lineup, Cox drilled a two-run home run in the first inning to give the Lions a quick 2-0 lead.
Alex Ferrera led off the Lion second by crushing a solo homer the other way over the right field wall to give Columbia a 3-0 lead all while Pat Lowery struck out three in the first two innings on the hill.
Yale did get to Lowery in the third when Andy Megee, who had a strong day at the plate for the Bulldogs, grounded a two-run double inside the third-base bag and down the left field line to get Yale within a run at 3-2.
After the second inning, Yale starter Brook Hart settled in. Aside from the fourth inning, when Columbia loaded the bases with two outs but did not score, Hart tossed perfect innings in the third, fifth, sixth and seventh.
Columbia still led 3-2 going into the top of the seventh in Yale's last chance. Ryan Brenner drew a leadoff walk and Charlie Niel followed by stroking a double just out of the reach of Billy Rumpke in left field to score the tying run.
At that point, Geoff Whitaker came on in relief, looking to keep Yale at bay with a runner at second and nobody out.
Whitaker was dominant in relief but the Lions caught a break on the first hitter he faced in the seventh. Whitaker got Andrew Kolmar to ground softly to Alex Godshall at second base but Niel did not advance to third on the groundout and remained at second with one out.
Whitaker then struck out Matt Schmidt on a rising fastball and got Gant Elmore to pop up to Jason Banos at first to keep the game tied.
As the game moved to extra innings, Whitaker faced the dangerous Megee to start the eighth. After Megee fouled off six straight pitches, Whitaker got him looking at a fastball on the corner to get the first out. He then struck out Trey Rallis and got Trygg Larsson-Danforth to fly out to left to send it to the bottom of the eighth, where Columbia would win it.
With one out, Cox continued to hit the ball hard, lining a single just in front of the center fielder. With Hart paying close attention to Cox at first, Alexander Aurrichio still found himself in a 1-2 hole with Cox aboard at first.
Hart threw a 1-2 breaking ball to Aurrichio and the Lion slugger launched a towering fly ball over the right-center field wall for a game-winning two-run homer to send the Columbia dugout into jubilation as the team mobbed Aurrichio at home plate.
Whitaker picked up his second straight win in relief, tossing two hitless innings with three strikeouts. Lowery fanned six in six-plus innings as he allowed just five hits. Hart struck out seven in 7 1/3 innings but three Columbia home runs helped hand Hart his first loss of the season.
Columbia starter Tim Giel retired the Yale side in order to start the first and the Lions promptly got the first three runners on base to start its half of the first inning.
Jon Eisen led off with a single through the left side of the infield for the second straight game and Billy Rumpke walked. On a sacrifice bunt attempt by Nick Cox, Yale starter Vinny Lally's throw bounced in front of Andy Megee at third to load the bases.
Lally came back to strike out Alexander Aurrichio for the first out but the Lions pushed across a run on a Nick Ferraresi groundout.
Leading 1-0 going to the bottom of the second, Columbia used small ball, specifically the bunt, to scratch out another run.
After Jason Banos reached second on a dropped fly ball by the center fielder, Alex Godshall followed with a beautiful bunt down the third base line and beat the throw to first to set up runners at the corners for Eisen.
Eisen followed with another bunt, this time between the mound and first. Falling off to the third-base side, the lefty Lally couldn't make the play and Eisen reached safely on the perfect squeeze bunt, making it 2-0 Lions.
In the third, Yale put runners on first and second with one out for Megee. After making a number of nasty pitches to get outs, Giel left a breaking ball up and Megee drilled it over the left field wall for a three-run homer that put Yale ahead, 3-2.
Columbia tied the game in the fourth. Eisen led off with a triple that rattled around in the left field corner. Two batters later, Cox ripped a single into right center to plate Eisen with the tying run, making it a 3-3 game.
The Bulldogs regained the lead in the fifth and again it was Megee again who drove home the run. Matt Schmidt doubled with one out and moved to third on a groundout. Megee then lined a double into left center to score Schmidt, putting Yale back in front, 4-3.
Columbia came back again to tie it up in the bottom of the fifth. Dean Forthun ripped a leadoff single on the first pitch and Lally then hit Banos with a 2-0 pitch to put runners at first and second.
Godshall again played small ball, dropping another terrific bunt down the third base line to load the bases for Eisen. Eisen grounded one down the line at third that Megee made a nice play just to grab. Megee then stepped on third base for the first out and fired across to nip Eisen at first for the double play, while a run scored to tie the game.
Lally continued to work in and out of trouble against the Columbia lineup while Giel hung up zeroes in the sixth and seventh. The game moved to the bottom of the seventh still tied at 4-4.
Columbia continued to do the fundamental things well, scoring the go-ahead run without the benefit of a hit. Ferrera drew a leadoff walk and Forthun followed with a walk on the eighth pitch he saw.
Banos then dropped down a nice sacrifice bunt to push the runners into scoring position for Godshall. On the first pitch, Godshall lofted a fly ball to medium-deep center field. In straightaway center, Kolmar made the grab but fired wide of the plate, allowing Ferrera to cross with the lead run.
In the eighth, Derek Squires came on in relief of Giel, who threw seven strong innings, allowing five hits. He walked two and struck out seven.
Facing the top of the Yale order, Squires yielded a leadoff single to Gant Elmore but got Megee on a fly ball to left. Squires then struck out Trey Rallis and with Elmore at second after a stolen base, Larsson-Danforth bounced out to first as Banos beat the Yale batter to the bag to end the frame.
Back out to pitch the ninth, Squires got Andrew Moore to bounce to shortstop on the first pitch. Squires then used a high fastball to strike out Ryan Brenner for the second out.
With the Columbia fans behind home plate rising and applauding, Squires got the count to 1-2 against Kolmar. Squires then struck him out on a beautiful changeup to end the game as the crowd let out a huge roar in celebration.
Giel earned his first collegiate win and Squires notched his second save of the season. Lally was tagged with the loss after he threw 141 pitches over seven innings. He struck out eight but walked six batters.
Riding a seven-game win streak, Columbia starts the Ivy League season at 2-0. The Lions are back in action on Sunday, April 4 against Brown in another league doubleheader. First pitch at Robertson Field will be at noon.
- Columbia played errorless baseball in each end of the doubleheader.
- In his return to the lineup, Nick Cox was 4-for-8 with three RBI during the twinbill. He also stole two bases.
- Jon Eisen, Columbia's leadoff man, was also 4-for-8 with three runs scored on the day.
- Columbia pitchers struck out 19 Yale batters in the twinbill.
- Alexander Aurrichio's game-winning home run was his sixth round-tripper of the season, tying him with Megee and Trygg Larsson-Danforth for the Ivy League lead.