Even though there's still ice on the ground and gale-force winds in the air, it's not too early to start forecasting this year's race for the Ivy League baseball championship.
Saturday and Sunday marked the commencement of the doubleheader weekends, which continue until the end of the year. All the teams from the Ivy League's Red Rolfe and Lou Gehrig divisions will eventually compete against each other in one of these twinbills.
The winners of the two divisions will face-off in the best-of-three Ivy League Championship series, scheduled this year for May 6-7. The winner of this series earns a berth in the NCAA tournament.
In the Gehrig Division, both Penn and Princeton had strong opening weekends, sharing first place with Ivy records of 3-1-0.
After splitting a doubleheader with Harvard on Saturday, Penn (10-9-0 overall) swept Dartmouth the next day in convincing fashion, 9-1 and 2-0.
Quaker righthander Mike Shannon was named Ivy League Pitcher of the week for his shutout performance in the nightcap.
Shannon walked one and struck out five, improving his overall record to 2-1 with a 1.57 ERA.
Princeton (8-11-0 overall) has been led thus far by Co-Rookie of the Week Michael Hazen, an outfielder who batted a robust .636 (7-for-11), with seven RBI, over the weekend. In a doubleheader against Yale, which the teams split, Hazen went a perfect 6-for-6, and had a streak of seven consecutive hits.
Sophomore first baseman Rob Kunzweller of Columbia, however, garnered Player of the Week honors for his power explosions in twinbills versus Dartmouth and Harvard. Kunzweller went 7-for-15 (.467) in the four games, with two home runs, four runs, and eight RBI.
As inconsistent as the Crimson has been in overall play (3-7-0), it nevertheless emerged from the weekend in tied with Yale, the defending champion, for the lead in the Rolfe division (2-2-0).
After a weak offensive display in an opening 4-2 loss to Penn on Saturday, Harvard rediscovered its bats to the tune of consecutive seven-runs-scored victories, 7-4 versus Penn and 7-6 over Columbia the next day.
Whatever enthusiasm resulted from these showings quickly vanished, however, in a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to the Lions on Sunday. Despite jumping out to an early 3-0 lead, costly errors allowed Columbia to even the score and eventually triumph on a leadoff home run in the final inning.
"We need to be more consistent and win the close games," sophomore third baseman Mike Hochanadel said, adding that the team's pitching has been strong in the early going. "All the games we've lost so far have been close ones."
Sophomore shortstop Peter Albers has been one offensive star for the Crimson in the early going, earning a spot on the Ivy League Honor Roll by batting .400 with 4 RBI for the week, and going 3-for-4 against Columbia.
Senior first baseman Joe Weidenbach has also hit at a torrid pace, leading the team with a .457 average. Weidenbach is in the midst of a ninegame hitting streak.
The Crimson now enters a stretch which will prove vital to any title hopes it might hold. It plays its next four doubleheaders at home, including a key pair of twinbills April 14 and 15 against Yale.
"We have our best days of practice the two days before the weekend games," Hochanadel said. "Everything is geared to getting ready for them."