Softball splits again, but shows potential

Home or away, non-conference or conference, the Yale softball team seems to have no preference when it comes to where and against whom they split doubleheaders. But the Bulldogs are finally starting to put their bats on the ball consistently — a nice change to be making as the Ivy League season gets underway.

The Elis (11-17, 2-2 Ivy) played their first Ivy League games of the season this weekend. In Hanover, the Elis won game one decisively, 5-1, but Dartmouth (6-12-1, 3-1) took advantage of Bulldog mental errors in game two to win, 7-5.

Sunday against Harvard (10-10, 3-1) was the opposite story, but one the Elis are quite familiar with. The Crimson took the early game, 2-0, as the Bulldog batters put up only five hits. But the Elis came back to take the late game, 4-2, on the strength of a first-inning, two-out grand slam from right fielder Niki Haab ’07.

“Overall it was a very good weekend,” captain Chelsea Kanyer ’06 said. “We played as a team, we hit the ball very well this weekend, and I feel like everyone really showed up to play. Even the ones we lost could have gone either way, which is always a good feeling.

The star of the weekend was double-winner Peggy Hunt ’06. The Bulldog ace pitched 14 innings this weekend, allowing three earned runs and 12 hits while striking out 10 batters. The victories — her second and third in a row — make Hunt the only Yale pitcher with a winning record at 7-6.

In the win-loss column, this weekend looks like nearly every one that preceded it. The Bulldogs have split six of eight doubleheaders so far this spring, often putting up good numbers in one game before going cold at the plate and making significantly more mental mistakes in the other.

But a look at the stat sheet reveals some important improvements. The Bulldogs averaged more than seven hits and three runs per game this weekend. Before this weekend, the Elis had not scored more than two runs in a loss since returning from spring break, and their most recent loss was a zero-hit effort against Sacred Heart April 6.

“We definitely wanted to come out winning all four this weekend, but I don’t think anyone’s disappointed at all,” third baseman Meredith Parks ’07 said. “Our team is better than our win-loss record — we just need to string our hits together, produce more runs, and stay in every game. The games this weekend weren’t poorly played, we just didn’t come out on top. As long as we keep playing, we’ll show how strong our team really is.”

The Bulldogs visibly benefitted from two batters in particular coming alive. Second baseman Christina Guerland ’07, who has struggled since leading the team offensively over spring break, and Parks, who just returned from a hamstring injury, combined to hit 12-for-30 this weekend with five RBI.

The Elis’ usual top four batters — catcher Kristy Kwiatkowski ’05, Guerland, Kanyer and Parks — are capable of producing extremely good numbers if they all hit like they have shown themselves capable of.

“It helped a lot to have Christina back on her game and Meredith back in the lineup,” Kanyer said. “They’re really god contact hitters. Nine times out of 10, they’ll put the ball in play.”

The early game versus Dartmouth saw the Bulldogs do something they have failed to do virtually all season — get started early. After posting a one run in the first inning, and with runners on first and second with two outs in the second inning, Kwiatkowski brought Haab home with a single to right.

Guerland followed up Kwiatkowski’s base knock with one of her own, a single to left center field, to plate center fielder Libby Peters ’05 and Kwiatkowski. Kanyer finished up the Eli scoring for the day with a single into left field to bring Guerland in from first.

The Bulldogs combined for only six hits, but those hits were good for five runs. Yale left only five runners on base.

“That’s been what we’ve struggled with all year, getting timely hits,” Guerland said. “It’s nice to see people come through in clutch situations this weekend — it gives us more confidence for the rest of the league season.”

Unfortunately, the Elis’ demons would come up in a big way in round two. The Elis nearly got out of the first inning unscathed after pitcher Ashley Linnenbank ’06 forced pop-outs from Dartmouth’s number one and three hitters. But number two hitter Sarah Bankoff was able to reach first on an error from shortstop Aracelis Torres ’08.

Linnenbank was the next Eli to lose her composure. She walked the Dartmouth clean-up batter before throwing a ball past Kwiatkowski at home to let the runners advance.

After allowing an RBI single, Linnenbank threw a wild pitch, walked a batter to load the bases, and then gave up a grand slam to Big Green first baseman Alicia Petryk.

The Bulldogs out-hit Dartmouth 11-10 on the game, but could never string together more than two hits in any inning, leaving a disturbing 14 runners on base.

The Elis also failed to take advantage of five Big Green errors and more than five innings of nearly flawless relief from Jessica Meyer ’07.

Dartmouth would score twice more in the second inning — on an error by left fielder Kate Meserve ’07.

“Defense plays a huge role in winning games,” Kanyer said. “The bottom line is errors happen — the goal is to minimize errors. No matter who’s on the mound, if you have errors, chances are higher that you’re going to lose.”

The Bulldogs outhit Harvard in the early game Sunday, but for the second time in as many days, that was not enough to produce a victory.

Linnenbank came away with her second bad-luck loss in two days. The lefty allowed only four hits, but one was a solo home run in the fourth inning, and another was a double that eventually led to a runner scoring on a sac fly.

The Bulldogs increased their offensive output in game two to seven hits. But the late game provided a textbook example of what the Elis can do when the hits come together.

With Guerland on first, Kanyer hit a single down the middle and third baseman Meredith Parks ’07 added a base hit of her own to load the bases.

Meyer struck out to bring Haab to the plate with two outs. The right fielder took Harvard’s young ace, Amanda Watkins, deep to center field and over the fence to put the Elis up for good.

The Bulldogs would only hit three more times after Haab’s blast, but Hunt held the packed Crimson lineup to only five hits and two runs to notch her second win in two days.

“I’m thrilled about this weekend,” Guerland said. “We haven’t beaten them in eight or nine years — we’ve struggled with them forever. To come out with a split today is awesome, and I think we’re really excited for next weekend against Columbia and Cornell. It’s a lot more fun in league play, playing other Ivies.”

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