The baseball team's chances of finishing with a winning conference record and winning the Red Rolfe division were squelched this weekend as the Bears dropped three of four games in an away series Friday and Saturday at Harvard.
"The theme this year ... has just been inconsistency," said Head Coach Marek Drabinski. "You never know what you're going to get from game to game."
Bruno (8-29, 5-11 Ivy) got out to an early lead over the Crimson (11-27, 7-9) in game one. Shortstop Graham Tyler '12 put the Bears on the board with an RBI single in the second inning before crossing the plate himself on center fielder Matt DeRenzi's '14 groundout. First baseman Cody Slaughter '13 followed with a two-run homer in the third to give the Bears a 4-1 lead.
But Harvard came back to score six runs in its last three at-bats to give the Crimson a 7-4 victory.
The Bears struck early again in game two. Right fielder Will Marcal '15 led off the second inning with a double and scored when second baseman JJ Franco '14 grounded into a double play. Harvard took a 2-1 lead in the third, but Bruno tied it in the sixth as catcher Wes Van Boom '14 tripled and scored on Marcal's RBI single. The Crimson rallied for two runs in the eighth and Bruno fell, 4-2.
Drabinski said both of Friday's contests were "pretty good games," but the Bears lost because the team made too many mistakes, from dropping fly balls to not getting in position for cutoff throws. "It's a matter of focus and concentration," he said. "I don't mind if you make a physical mistake ... but when you make mental errors, that really hurts the coach."
Game three was the closest of the weekend. The Bears' bats got hot early as they struck for two runs in the second and added three more in the fourth, but the Crimson kept pace and after four innings the score was 5-5.
Both teams' offenses were quiet after that, until Harvard designated hitter Marcus Way connected for a walk-off solo home run in the bottom of the seventh to give the Crimson a 6-5 win.
But the Bears got their revenge in game four. Bruno jumped out for six runs in the top of the first in a rally capped by Franco's RBI double and designated hitter Mike DiBiase's '12 two-run homer, then added another in the second on Van Boom's RBI single for a 7-1 lead.
The Bears added two more unearned runs in the fourth before exploding for eight runs in the top of the fifth. The rally featured DiBiase's second home run of the game, a two-run single for Slaughter and errors by four different Crimson fielders as Bruno sent 12 men to the plate. When the inning was over, Bruno had a commanding 17-5 lead.
But the Bears were not done. Three more runs crossed the plate in the seventh via DiBiase's two-run double and third baseman Nick Fornaca's '15 RBI single. Slaughter hit a leadoff home run and DiBiase drew an RBI walk in the eighth as Bruno held on for a lopsided 22-9 victory.
The 22 runs scored tied a season-high for the Bears. Bruno's 22 points and the teams' combined 31 runs were the highest in an Ivy conference game this year. It was also the first time in more than two years the Bears won a game in which they allowed more than seven runs.
"I guess that's a good accomplishment," Drabinski said, adding that he was impressed that the team played so well at the end of a frustrating weekend. "They easily could have packed it in."
Drabinski said hitting has not been the Bears' problem this year - rather, their struggles stemmed from inconsistent pitching. Before the season Drabinski said he was hoping to set a stable rotation for conference play, but that never materialized. "We didn't really have a go-to guy this year," he said. After Anthony Galan '14 and Heath Mayo '13, the rotation was "like (flipping) a coin," he said.
Drabinski cited Cornell (27-11-1, 13-3) and Dartmouth (17-15, 11-5), who lead their respective divisions, as examples of strong defensive teams that play with consistency. "You've got to bring it every weekend," he said. "They just don't make mistakes, they don't beat themselves ... and that's what it takes."
"I don't like to use youth as an excuse," Drabinski said, but he acknowledged the Bears' young roster might factor into their inconsistency. Injuries have also taken their toll, specifically the loss of center fielder John Sheridan '13. Drabinski called Sheridan - who dislocated his shoulder in a game against Cornell April 7 - "probably the best center fielder in the league."
Drabinski is optimistic about next year, when the Bears' young players will start the season with another year of experience under their belts. "I really think the future looks very bright," he said.
He also cited a proposal, to be decided next month, that could expand the Ivy League playoffs from two teams to four as something that will bring more excitement next year. "It makes pretty much every weekend meaningful for everybody," he said, as opposed to the current system, in which a team is "pretty much done" after a single bad weekend.
The Bears' next games are at University of Rhode Island (24-16) Tuesday and at Bryant (25-15) Wednesday. The conference season ends this weekend with a four-game series against Yale (9-30-1, 2-14), and the Bears' final games of the season will be a doubleheader at home versus Marist (15-20) May 1.