If only Yale’s final baseball game of the weekend had been eight innings long.
A shorter game Sunday would have kept Princeton catcher Sal Iacono from smacking a three-run walk-off dinger to give his Tigers (6-13, 2-2 Ivy) a 7-4 victory and weekend sweep over the Bulldogs (7-16, 1-3). The Elis came away with only one win from the four-game weekend, a 6-5 squeaker over Cornell (8-10, 2-1) on Saturday, resulting in a series split with the Big Red.
Princeton’s bottom of the ninth home run seemed to epitomize Yale’s weekend of close games and ruined this season’s best performance from ace Chris Wietlispach ’08. The starter came into the game with an ERA around 15 – coincidently the same number of strikeouts he had in eight innings on the hill. He struck out all three batters in the eighth and sat on the bench as the bullpen squandered his lead, robbing him of his first win of the season.
“[Iacono] hit a good pitch,” Wietlispach said. “I put my head down and said ‘Not another one.’”
With men on first and third, the Elis could have opted to pitch around Iacono or intentionally walk him, but they instead decided to put in power-pitcher John Henry Davis ’08 in the hopes of inducing a double play ground ball.
Things didn’t go as the Bulldogs hoped. The weekend finished on a conspicuous low note.
“It was deflating,” Josh Cox ’08 said. “We knew we weren’t in the most favorable position, but we didn’t expect it to end like that. It was really disappointing.”
The heartbreaking loss followed on the heels of an earlier defeat at the hands of the Tigers, 5-2. Princeton pitcher David Hale struck out the side in the first inning and went on to throw a complete game against the Bulldogs. Yale managed to rack up only eight hits, well below its season average, and couldn’t get anything going to help Brandon Josselyn ’08 on the mound.
Cox said the Yale batters allowed the opposing pitchers to dictate what happened. He said the key to batting success will be hitting the ball in favorable counts and approaching the plate with aggression.
The hitting has been so good as of late that it seems something had to give. Even though the Bulldogs are batting around .300 as a team, a number of the players recognized how fickle offensive performance can be.
“Our hitters are good; sometimes things just don’t go so well,” Ryan Lavarnway ’09 said. “We didn’t really see anything that we couldn’t hit, but it doesn’t always work out.”
The strong pitching opposition and the subsequent cool down in hitting was no more apparent than in Yale’s first game of the weekend against Cornell. Yale managed to accumulate only two hits — a Josh Cox ’08 bunt single in the seventh and a Lavarnway single in the second that kept his hitting streak alive. Lavarnway would finish 8-for-14 over the weekend, an exceptional batting display, and his current 23-game hitting streak is now the best ever in Yale history.
Things were a little better in game two, in which the Bulldogs scraped together six runs on 12 hits to get starting pitcher Steve Gilman ’08 his second win of the season. Head coach John Stuper shuffled the lineup a bit, switching Justin Ankney ’07, who usually bats in the two hole, with power-hitter Marc Sawyer ’07, who usually bats cleanup. The formula seemed to work. The senior duo picked up four hits and scored half of the team’s runs.
“It all comes down to consistency,” Pedro Obregon ’07 said. “We struggled a little with our consistency, but we were doing well when we were hitting the ball in hitters counts.”
While the offense largely sputtered over the weekend, the pitching staff threw better than they have all season. Led by Wietlispach, the starters surrendered 15 runs in 23.4 innings of work. Stefan Schropp ’09 pitched all six innings in the first game against the Big Red, striking out eight batters along the way.
“All four starters did pretty well this weekend,” Wietlispach said. “We went deeper into games than we have been. The bullpen guys did their jobs too. We’ve got four more games this upcoming weekend to work this out before the real deal starts.”
The “real deal” Wietlispach is referring to is the start of games against opponents in Yale’s division of the Ivy League. The Rolfe Division foes of Brown, Dartmouth and Harvard represent the most important games for the Elis.
Wietlispach said there are definitely a few things the team has to stop doing if it hopes to win those crucial contests, but he said it seems that some things are starting to go the Bulldogs’ way.
Yale needs its hitting and pitching to come together in the same games and on the same weekends.
“Our focus is to finally have that day where everything goes seamlessly,” Cox said. “The day where pitching, hitting and fielding turn on. We’re so close right now.”