Earlier in the countdown, we talked about how competitive the Ivy League has become in recent years. Simply put, expectations in the league have changed, and teams from the conference can no longer automatically be considered minnows on the national stage.
A number of things go into this being the case, but the biggest catalyst has been the emergence of the Columbia Lions under head coach Brett Boretti. His success in leading the Lions, not only to their perch as the team to beat in the Ivy League, but also to their place as a thorn in the side of big programs in regionals, has been a game-changer.
The Lions have been to the regionals in each of the last three seasons as the winner of the Ivy League’s championship series, and they’ve played well in all three trips. In 2015, they advanced to the regional final against Miami. In 2014, they lost a pair of one-run games, including their opener against eventual College World Series team Texas Tech. In 2013, they scored an upset win over New Mexico one game after pushing host Cal State Fullerton in their opening game.
At the same time, some serious talent has come through campus.
Seven Lions have been drafted since 2012, and three of those players, Gus Craig, George Thanopoulos, and Jordan Serena were drafted in 2015, the first time that three Columbia players have been drafted in any single year.
As seniors, Craig and Serena have moved on to pro baseball, but Thanopoulos will be back in 2016 after going 6-5 with a 3.69 ERA a year ago. In 75.2 innings, he struck out 68 and opposing batters hit .247 against him. He’ll be far from alone, which should set the Lions up well to compete for the league crown once again.
Also back on the pitching staff is Kevin Roy, who was 6-4 with a 3.34 ERA. In 64.2 innings of work, the batting average against him was just .227. Making it a trifecta of returning pitchers with significant starting experience is Adam Cline, who was 3-0 with a 3.51 ERA in 15 appearances (seven starts). A bevy of relievers from 2015 also return, such as Matt Robinson (1.93, 3 SV), Ty Wiest (2.25, 2 SV), Bryce Barr (2.30), and Harrison Egly (3.41, 5 SV).
Offensively, expect Joe Falcone to lead the charge. A season ago, he emerged as a monster power threat, putting up a .323/.399/.615 slash line with 19 doubles, 11 homers, and 54 RBI. He’ll be surrounded in the lineup by two others who have shown that they can be serious power threats as well- Robb Paller (.264/.392/.472, 12 doubles, 7 HR, 35 RBI) and Nick Maguire (.242, 12 doubles, 7 HR, 23 RBI). Will Savage (.302 BA, .406 OBP, 10 SB) will be back to get on base and provide some speed to help make up for the loss of Serena, who led the team in steals a season ago with 21.
The Lions have gotten continually better under Boretti, and with the talent they have returning and the way that he and his staff have proven to be able to develop players year after year, there’s no reason to believe that will end now. A fourth straight trip to regionals is very much in play.