Quakers await in on-deck circle

The Yale baseball team has been able to count on two things at every game this season — the playing of the National Anthem and Ryan Lavarnway ’09 getting a hit. It’s not Lavarnway singing before the games, but that’s about the only thing he hasn’t done for the Bulldogs this year.

The peerless catcher and left fielder currently leads the Ivy League in the Triple Crown categories. He is batting .478, has compiled 31 RBIs and has smashed seven home runs, three more than anyone else in the league.

Lavarnway, who recently locked in his third consecutive Ivy League Player of the Week award, has hit safely in all 23 Eli games this season and, including the final two games of last season, has an overall hitting streak currently at 25 games. The streak is the longest in Ancient Eight history.

“It’s simply unbelievable,” center fielder Josh Cox ’08 said. “He’s seeing the ball so well. He gets up there and you just know something good is going to happen.”

The Bulldogs will need Lavarnway and Cox, who is fourth in the league in batting and first in the league with 17 stolen bases, to continue producing if they want to pick up key wins this weekend. The Penn Quakers (10-12, 4-4 Ivy) will visit on Saturday and the Columbia Tigers (10-14, 5-3) on Sunday. The games will wrap up Yale’s play against teams from the league’s Gehrig Division.

The Bulldogs hope to get back on track after last weekend’s disappointing showings against Cornell and Princeton. Yale finished the weekend 1-3 and looks to move out of the basement of the Rolfe Division.

“This obviously wasn’t the start we wanted,” shortstop Dan Soltman ’08 said. “But we’ve put last weekend behind us. We’re just going to go out there and play hard.”

Pitcher Chris Wietlispach ’08 said he knows his team has a slight uphill battle, but he said he’s watching the batters strike out less and hit more in clutch situations.

The Elis currently lead the Ancient Eight in team batting with a .302 average, and their aggression at the plate has translated into similar aggression on the bases — the Bulldogs have converted on 39 of 52 steal attempts.

Even with such successes at the plate and on the base paths, it is the pitching that will need to continue to show improvement if the team hopes to win games. The pitching staff enters this weekend with a league-worst 296 hits with an 8.26 ERA.

But things do seem to be improving. The Eli starters gave up only 15 runs in 23.4 innings of work against Princeton and Cornell. Wietlispach looked especially impressive in his eight innings against the Tigers, in which he allowed only two runs on nine hits.

“I didn’t really do anything different,” Wietlispach said. “The bad luck has stopped. I’m just going to keep throwing what I’ve been throwing.”

If the Quakers keep throwing what they’ve been throwing, they may be tough to handle come Saturday. The Penn pitching staff is full of talented young arms, including those of Todd Roth, who comes into the weekend with a league-leading 1.31 ERA and 33 strikeouts. The dynamic freshman has allowed only five runs in 34.1 innings on the hill and has thrown three consecutive complete games. The Penn pitchers as a whole boast an impressive 5.23 ERA.

While the Quakers would like to see the runs kept low, the Lions of Columbia probably wouldn’t mind seeing double digits on the scoreboard. The team from Manhattan carries three starters with batting averages well above .300, including Andrew Ward, who is second in the league in RBIs with 26. The Lions don’t hit for great power, but use singles to move people around and score runs. They’ve done it so well this year that they are tops in the Ivy League in runs scored (147).

The Elis understand the importance of all of the games this weekend.

“You want to win the Ivy League,” Soltman said. “Everybody comes out to play every day, but there’s a sense of urgency we feel when playing these guys, especially at home. It definitely adds to focus and weekly preparation.”

Fans heading to Yale Field on Saturday or Sunday to catch any of the four games will encounter fierce Ancient Eight competition and probably a few Ryan Lavarnway hits.

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