Ivy League race once again wide open

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Dartmouth is ready to be the hunted this season.

The Big Green entered last season with high hopes, but didn’t think it would finish the season with an impressive 16-4 mark in conference play. It did.

After winning the Ivy League’s automatic berth last season, Dartmouth would love nothing more than to repeat as conference champions this spring.

Cornell may have something to say about that, though.

The Big Red lost to the Big Green in the Ivy League championship series last season. However, it welcomes back several key ingredients both at the plate and on the mound from a club that finished ’09 with a 10-10 conference record.

Harvard and Pennsylvania are prime candidates to surprise this season. The Crimson welcomes back three pitchers that missed last season because of injuries. Penn welcomes back several talented players with experience.

The Ivy League once again is wide open.

HOW THEY STACK UP

Red Rolfe Division

1. Dartmouth – The Big Green has some holes to fill, but also returns a few key hitters and pitchers.

Photo Max Perlman’s health is a huge key to the season for Harvard.
(Harvard)

2. Harvard – Staying healthy with the return of pitchers Max Perlman and Eric Eadington is the key to the season for the Crimson.

3. Brown – The Bears took a step forward last season and return just enough key cogs to have another respectable campaign.

4. Yale – The Bulldogs will be better this season, but how much better is the key. They return several leading hitters.

Lou Gehrig Division

1. Cornell – The Big Red returns five key hitters and a few talented pitchers. This team is seasoned entering the spring.

2. Pennsylvania – The Quakers return enough key players both on the mound and at the plate to make some noise this season.

3. Columbia – The Lions welcome back six solid hitters, but must greatly improve on the mound to win the conference crown.

4. Princeton – The Tigers head back to the drawing board after losing several key players off last year’s respectable club.

ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM

C: Dean Forthun, Columbia

1B: Trygg Larsson-Danforth, Yale

2B: Jon Eisen, Columbia

SS: Joe Sclafani, Dartmouth

3B: Dan Williams, Pennsylvania

OF: Jim Wren, Dartmouth

OF: Tom Grandieri, Pennsylvania

OF: Jeremy Maas, Pennsylvania

DH: Pete Greskoff, Brown

SP: Mark Gormley, Brown

SP: David Palms, Princeton

SP: Max Perlman, Harvard

RP: David Rochefort, Cornell

RISING STOCK

Harvard – The Crimson finished last season with a dismal 13-28 record, but is expected to be much improved this season with the return of six position starters and a pair of pitchers that missed last season with injuries.

Cornell – The Big Red finished last season with a 10-10 record, but welcome back several key cogs both at the plate and on the mound. Don’t be surprised if the Big Red actually finds a way to beat Dartmouth for the league’s automatic berth. Cornell is seasoned and ready to take a step forward.

Penn’s Tom Grandieri – Grandieri didn’t earn a wealth of headlines last season, but is expected to have a strong campaign after finishing last season with solid numbers. He also could be a huge reason the Quakers are much improved.

Brown’s Mark Gormley – The junior left-hander will be an interesting player to watch this season. He earned all-conference honors last season, but has a chance to become a national name by lowering his earned-run average this season.

FALLING STOCK

Princeton – The Tigers were close to playing for the Ivy League crown last season. Now, they head back to the drawing board after losing several solid hitters. It’s up to pitcher David Palms and others to rise to the occasion.

Ivy League pitching staffs – The conference features a few solid starting pitchers and relievers, but most teams need much help on the mound. Of the eight Ivy League programs, six finished last season with ERAs over six. Princeton and Cornell, the two teams that finished with ERAs below six, had ERAs of 5.08 and 5.94, respectively. It’s no surprise that Cornell is a co-favorite to win the league with the return of several arms from that pitching staff. This league needs to put more emphasis on quality pitching.

BEST PITCHER

LHP Mark Gormley, Brown

The veteran left-hander had a solid ’09 campaign for the Bears and expects to have another good season. Gormley finished last season with a 4.55 ERA in 61 1/3 innings. He tallied six victories and threw four complete games. He also struck out 50 and walked 13, while opponents only hit him at a .249 clip. Brown needs Gormley to have another solid campaign to win the Ivy League’s automatic berth.

BEST HITTER

OF Tom Grandieri, Pennsylvania

It’s amazing to think that Grandieri apparently wasn’t good enough to earn a spot on the Ivy League’s official All-Conference team last season. He was consistent and compiled solid numbers. He finished last season hitting .357 with 19 doubles, five homers and 32 RBIs. He also slugged .573 and had a .423 on-base percentage. Grandieri also induced 18 walks. The Quakers could take a huge step forward with Grandieri leading the way.

REGIONAL CONTENDERS

Dartmouth, Cornell – The teams are expected to win their respective divisions and play for the Ivy League title and an automatic berth. As always, the Ivy League once again is expected to be a one-bid league to the postseason. The Big Green looks to return to an NCAA regional after winning the league title last season.

QUICK HITS

• Harvard is an interesting team to watch this season. The Crimson was ravaged by injuries the last two seasons, but receives a boost this spring with the return of starting pitchers Max Perlman and Eric Eadington. Perlman and Eadington, both very talented pitchers, missed the last two seasons because of injuries. Another pitcher, top reliever Ben Sestanovich, missed last season with an injury and is back this spring. The Crimson will make some noise if it can stay healthy.

• Dartmouth made a huge statement last season by finishing the campaign with an impressive 16-4 conference record. However, it has some important holes to fill at the plate. The Big Green is without Nick Santomauro, who had a fantastic ’09 campaign. They also are without four of their top six hitters. The silver lining is that the Big Green welcome back pitchers such as Robert Young, Kyle Hendricks, Ben Murray and Dan Ternowchek. Dartmouth has a chance to be very solid if the offense steps up.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Yahoo! Sports and Rivals.com. Follow him on Twitter and follow Yahoo! Sports College Baseball on Facebook. Send Kendall a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Sunday, Jan 24, 2010