ITHACA, N.Y. — Chris Cruz broke the Cornell school record for home runs in a season in dramatic fashion, belted a two-run shot in the bottom of the 11th to lift the Big Red to a thrilling 3-1 victory over Dartmouth on Sunday afternoon and claim the Big Red’s first Ivy League title since 1977. With the win, Cornell (31-15-1) earns the conference’s automatic bid for the NCAA Regionals, which begin on Friday, June 1.
The longest game in the history of the ICS (and just the third to go into extra innings), ended Dartmouth’s season with a 24-18 record. The Big Green won 22 of their last 30 games and won 24 or more games for the fifth straight year.
Both teams got superb pitching performances from their starters and closers, all of whom are freshmen. Brian McAfee tossed the first six innings for the Big Red, allowing just one run on four hits and a pair of walks while striking out three, then Kellen Urbon (3-1) shut down Dartmouth for five frames on two hits and one walk with a solitary strikeout.
For the Big Green, Adam Frank pitched five-plus innings, yielding just one run on four hits and walk. He gave way in the sixth to Thomas Olson (1-4), who tossed five scoreless stanzas before surrendering the two-run shot to Cruz in the 11th, the first home run off the rookie right-hander in 37.1 innings this year. In his 5.1 innings, he gave up the two runs on five hits without walking a batter and fanning four.
Dartmouth scored the game’s first run in the third inning on singles by freshman Nick Lombardi, senior Joe Sclafani and freshman Thomas Roulis. After junior Chris O’Dowd drew a walk, the Big Green had the bases loaded with just one out and the heart of the order up. But McAfee was up to the challenge, striking out clean-up hitter Dustin Selzer before inducing sophomore Jeff Keller to hit a routine fly to center.
Frank, meanwhile, stranded three Big Red runners in the first two innings, then retired 11 straight batters going into the sixth inning. He got a little help to end the third as Brian Billigen sent a deep drive to right where Keller made a leaping grab as he crashed into the fence.
In the top of the sixth, the Big Green had a terrific opportunity to score when O’Dowd led off with a walk and scooted all the way to third one out later when a pickoff throw was muffed. Keller then smoked a line drive right to the third baseman, Ben Swinford, who snared the shot and stepped on third to double up O’Dowd.
Brenton Peters ended Cornell’s futility at the plate with a bunt single, then stole second on a 1-0 pitch to Marshall Yanzick. Dartmouth Head Coach Bob Whalen immediately summoned Olson from the bullpen to try and protect the one-run lead. Yanzick ended up drawing a walk, which was charged to Frank, then Billigen sent Peters to third with a long fly to center. Cruz stepped to the plate and sent a shallow pop up into center field, where the second baseman Roulis was the only one who could make the catch. With his momentum going away from the plate, Roulis could not get enough on the throw to the plate as the Big Red gambled in sending Peters home, thying the score at one apiece.
Dartmouth threatened to score again in the seventh after Urbon trotted in from the bullpen as Lombardi stroked a two-out single and senior Jake Carlson walked. Again the Big Green hit a line drive, this time by Sclafani, but first baseman Frank Hager made a diving catch inside the foul line to deny Dartmouth.
Brandon Lee began the Big Red half of the seventh with a base hit, then with two out tried to take third on a single to right off the bat of Swinford. Keller came up with another highlight defensive play, firing a one-hopper to third to gun down Lee and end the inning.
The only runner to make it into scoring position in the eighth, ninth and 10th innings was Lee when he swatted a two-out double to the gap in right-center in the ninth. Olson got the third out on the very next pitch, inducing a foul pop between home and first where Selzer made a sliding grab.
In the 11th, Billigen came up with one out and provided a single to right, setting the stage for Cruz. The left-handed slugger had sent several deep flies well foul in his previous at-bat, but straightened a 2-1 pitch out to send the partisan crowd home happy.
Lombardi had two of Dartmouth’s six singles on the afternoon, scoring the lone run.
Notes: Olson had not allowed a run in over a month, spanning 21.0 innings, before the home run … Carlson finished the season with a .397 average, which currently leads the Ivy League by 35 points, ahead of Billigen at .362 … Dartmouth has played in all three extra-inning Ivy Championship games, ending up on the wrong end of all three, each of which clinched the series for its opponent. Princeton won the third game in 2001 in 10 innings, 6-5, and the second game in 2004 in 10 innings again, 5-4 … Sclafani finished his career as the Ivy League career leader in triples (19) and the Big Green all-time leader in walks (100), games played (172), games started (170), at-bats (675) and assists (516), plus ranked second in school history in hits (220) and runs (163), third in total bases (331), fifth in doubles (40) and eighth in RBIs (116).