Baseball begins with Ivy title on the mind

There’s an old cliche in baseball that good pitching beats good hitting any day. This year, the Elis have both.

After finishing a close second to Dartmouth in the Red Rolfe Division in 2004, the Bulldogs may well be the favorites to win the pennant in 2005. All four members of the Elis’ starting rotation and nine of the team’s top ten batting average leaders are returning for this season.

“This program is headed in a great direction,” outfielder Zac Bradley ’06 said. “Going into this year, everybody will be disappointed if we don’t end up winning the Ivy Championship. If we can take care of our business, there’s not a team that can beat us.”

Although the Elis’ 19-20 overall record last season seems subpar, it is impressive considering the Bulldogs’ schedule included games against nationally ranked teams. The Elis also play in the tougher of two Ivy League divisions, and their 11-9 Ivy record would have looked a lot better had it not been for a late-season series sweep at the hands of the Big Green.

“It hurts to play stiffer competition,” Bradley said. “But if you’re a real competitor, you want to play the best.”

The Elis will start off the 2005 campaign by facing more stiff competition during a 12-game southern road trip over the next two weeks. They open their season Sunday with the first of three games against Davidson in North Carolina. After that, the Bulldogs take on IPFW, Georgetown, Indiana and Massachusetts over a six-game stretch. The Elis then play Radford, Navy, and Richmond before returning to Connecticut for a four-game, two day series against Sacred Heart on the last weekend of vacation.

Despite the intense travel schedule, the Bulldogs are excited to kick off the season and get an early taste of summer weather.

“Well, obviously we can’t play up here now,” captain C.J. Orrico ’05 said. “The southern trip is always great because we get closer as a team, and we can play opponents that already have ten games under their belts. It’s a good opportunity to see how everything is coming and get some wins.”

One of the Elis’ biggest strengths this year is their pitching. The starting rotation is headed by Alec Smith ’06 and Josh Sowers ’05, who ranked second and third in the Ivies last year with earned run averages of 3.17 and 3.39, respectively. Smith displayed excellent control, walking just 15 batters in 59.2 innings, and his six wins led the Yale staff. Sowers finished second in the Ivies with 54 strikeouts in 2004, and was named to Baseball America’s preseason All-Ivy team in February.

John Hollis ’06, who finished eighth in the Ivies with a 3.97 ERA, compiled a 4-3 record and figures to improve on that this year. Hard-throwing southpaw Mike Mongiardini ’07, who started in seven of his thirteen appearances last year, rounds out the rotation.

All five members of last year’s starting infield are returning. In addition to providing the core of Yale’s Ivy-leading team defense, the infield adds a great deal of offensive firepower to the lineup.

Catcher Eric Rasmussen ’06, who started 37 of the Elis’ 39 games last season, provides consistency behind the plate. His 13 RBI last season make him a viable offensive threat as well. First baseman Marc Sawyer ’07 was nearly flawless in the field, making only one error all year. He led the Bulldogs with a .355 batting average last year and earned second team All-Ivy honors.

Second baseman Justin Ankney ’07 is coming of a season that saw him lead the Elis in hits (51), runs (34), and total bases (79). He also received All-Ivy honorable mention. Ankney and shortstop Chris Esper ’06, who finished fourth on the team with 17 RBI, were the only players to start every game for the Elis. At the hot corner, Matt Stone ’06 led the team in RBI with 26 and made the All-Ivy honorable mention list as well.

In the outfield, Orrico, Bradley and Jake Doyle ’07 have the inside track on starting jobs. Orrico hit .275 with 15 RBI and tied for the team lead with 12 walks last year. Bradley, who missed the 2003 season due to injury, appears to be all the way back. After leading the team in steals in 2004, his speed figures to be a valuable asset at the top of the lineup. Doyle looks to be an Ivy League Vladimir Guerrero in the making. He hit .321 with 22 RBI at the plate and impressed coaches, fans, and opponents with his cannon arm in right field. All-Ivy honorable mentions Josh Zabar ’06 and John Janco ’06 figure to get significant playing time at designated hitter and in the field as well.

With all of these pieces in place, the Bulldogs are determined to improve on last year’s solid performance.

“We want to this year to end with an Ivy League title,” Janco said. “However, in order to do that we have to approach each game with the mindset that we have to do whatever it takes to win and never take any team lightly.”

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