Travel down South. Go out West. Hit all the school baseball scorching spots, the locales MLB scouts frequent, and also you gained’t discover the nation’s longest winning streak.
Not within the SEC. Not within the ACC. Not within the Big 12. Not within the Pac-12.
You don’t have to fly to seek out that team. You can take the subway or bus to the Baker Athletics Complex, in Inwood. That northern Manhattan neighborhood is the place the Columbia Lions, homeowners of a 19-game winning streak that ranks No. 1 within the nation, play.
“It’s pretty cool, huh?” outfielder Hayden Schott mentioned with a smirk.
That’s an acceptable adjective to explain Columbia’s season. Satisfying, unbelievable, thrilling and beautiful would additionally suffice.
The Lions didn’t play in both of the earlier two years as a result of COVID-19 pandemic. Only 19 gamers on the roster had Division I expertise previous to this spring. They have come from behind to win six instances within the seventh inning or later they usually have already set a program file with 56 residence runs. The bulk of their winning streak has come in opposition to different Ivy League groups, however earlier within the season, they defeated high quality groups reminiscent of Baylor, Houston and Davidson. And Columbia has achieved it with a unfastened, carefree strategy that features a stuffed animal rat named Plushy as its good luck appeal.
“Personally,” longtime coach Brett Boretti mentioned, “it has been my most enjoyable season because of them.”
The winning streak has change into a preferred subject among the many Lions, however Boretti hadn’t addressed it with the team till after the newest win, at Cornell on May 1. With a two-week break for finals looming, he wished to spotlight the spectacular accomplishment.
“That doesn’t happen in baseball, a team not losing in a month,” he mentioned.
Columbia (26-13, 16-2) has come shut. The Lions have pulled out comebacks 4 instances throughout this run, scoring 10 instances over the ultimate three innings in opposition to Brown to beat a five-run deficit on April 10 and rallying from three runs down within the remaining body in opposition to Yale on April 23.
“We never feel like we’re out of a game ever,” mentioned Schott, the team chief in residence runs (11) and RBI (43).
The Lions enter a three-game sequence at third-place Dartmouth, which can shut out their common season, assured of a spot within the two-team Ivy League playoff. A showdown looms in opposition to Penn, the lone convention foe to beat the Lions in a sequence this year, with the winner headed to the NCAA Tournament.
Columbia, which has made the match 5 instances since 2008 beneath Boretti, has already confirmed it may well play with prime competitors. The Lions have an RPI of 53, and they’re ranked twenty third within the nation in team batting common (.302) and seventeenth in slugging proportion (.510).
“That shows they can hit with anybody, which gives them a puncher’s chance,” mentioned Eric Sorenson, who covers school baseball for D1Baseball.com. “If they can get by Penn and make the NCAA Tournament, they can be trouble for somebody. They could even possibly pull a No. 3 seed.”
This team is exclusive, for quite a lot of causes. At the highest of the checklist is what it went by way of the previous two years. Columbia performed eight video games in 2020, earlier than the season was canceled as soon as the pandemic hit. There was optimism about enjoying a season the next spring, although the Ivy League didn’t play fall or winter sports activities in 2020-21. There was discuss of a league-only schedule, as just about the remainder of the nation was going forward with a season. But in mid-February 2021, the spring season was canceled.
“We felt cheated because of it,” senior right-hander Sean Higgins mentioned.
That frustration, although, offered gas. That year’s seniors helped hold the team collectively although their Columbia careers have been coming to an finish. A team text-message chat and electronic mail chain enabled gamers to change into conversant in each other with out formally meeting till this fall. Most importantly, it created a special dynamic.
Typically, groups have 4 lessons, with freshmen on the backside. For Columbia, it was seniors and everybody else, three lessons mainly experiencing every thing for the primary time collectively. It solid a bond for this team, a togetherness Boretti and his gamers imagine has resulted of their success.
“Sometimes you just have a good group of guys and you get along,” Schott mentioned. “We have guys who love to be around each other.”
Boretti admitted he has managed otherwise this spring, coming off the two-year hiatus. He has loosened the reins to make sure his gamers get pleasure from themselves. Pre-COVID, he wouldn’t have allowed the rat factor. But his gamers work so laborious and spend a lot additional time on the sphere, he mentioned he feels much less of a must be a drill sergeant. And so when he noticed the rat in a cubby within the dugout, he laughed to himself and let it go.
The rat confirmed up early through the non-conference portion of the schedule when Boretti relayed a reporter describing the team as “scrappy” and “ratty.” The gamers took to that description and started utilizing it every time one thing constructive occurred. Then a rat was purchased to take it to the subsequent stage. Players pet it for good luck. A house run hitter is introduced the rat — a black stuffed animal that was bought by senior outfielder Joshua Solomon — as a part of the celebration whereas the team repeatedly screams “Yes!” within the dugout.
“We’re not too worried about what other people think,” senior infielder Jacob Phelps mentioned. “We love it. We love Plushy.”
Columbia is winning a ton and having enjoyable within the course of, profiting from this season after being left on the surface final spring. The Lions have change into the most effective packages within the Northeast, coming inside one win of the NCAA Super Regionals in 2015. Still, there’s a particular high quality with this team. It’s partly the winning streak, all of the late rallies and the tight-knit nature of this group. They handled numerous adversity the previous few years, and used that as motivation.
“I think that’s part of where that joy comes from for a lot of these guys,” Boretti mentioned. “They know they missed out on a lot and they’re doing everything that they can to enjoy the hell out of it for as long as they can.”