Elis take a cue from Elm City, refuse to warm up

The sun finally snuck through the overcast sky Saturday afternoon at Yale Field, but the thermometer wouldn’t budge. In the cold temperatures and brisk winds, the resilient Penn pitchers and batters left the languid Bulldogs numb.

The Elis (7-18, 1-5 Ivy) took an early 4-0 lead in the first game, but that would be their only point of glory on the day. The Quakers (12-12, 6-4) stormed back to tie the game at six apiece and kept the momentum going with a six-run offensive outpouring in the top of the first extra inning. The listless Bulldogs had no answer and lost, 12-6.

“It’s not like we were giving up,” captain Justin Ankney ’07 said in reference to the six-run deficit. “But you know it’s going to be a tough one to pull out at that point. We never should have been in [the extra inning] in the first place. We had a really good chance to win the game in the bottom of the seventh.”

Penn’s momentum seemed to carry them through Game Two. Quaker pitcher Jim Birmingham pitched a complete game and gave up only one run on five hits. The Penn bats got hot late in the game, including a devastating five-run seventh. The Elis again had no answer at the plate, on the mound or in the field and fell, 9-1.

“[Birmingham] went out there and beat us,” third baseman Pedro Obregon ’07 said. “With a soft throwing lefty, guys were trying to pull the ball instead of just hitting it at the second baseman’s head.”

The Bulldogs batted a combined 13-55 (.236) in the two games — well below their season average — and catcher Ryan Lavarnway ’09 also saw his 25-game hitting streak snapped after he went 0-2 in the opener against the Quakers.

Charles Bush ’09 was the only person who could get anything going at the plate. He finished 4-7 with a couple of RBIs over both games. But Bush’s success at the plate was offset somewhat by his performance in the field. Bush committed three errors in Game Two, adding to a dismal display in the field by the team as a whole. The Elis tallied eight errors in the two games and did little to instill confidence in the pitchers they were supporting.

“We have to do better than that,” Ankney said. “It’s almost impossible to have that many errors and win games. It’s basically inexcusable.”

The one thing the Elis are not blaming for their losses is the cold. Both teams did, after all, have to play in the same conditions. But several of the players said they recognize the difficulty of competing in the cooler conditions.

“It’s hard to play baseball when it’s 35 degrees,” Obregon said. “But the team that wins is the team that lets the cold affect them less.”

The conditions can be especially tough on the pitchers, who try to stay loose throughout an entire game but have difficulty when temperatures hover around freezing.

“The big problem is trying to get a feel for the ball,” reliever Chris Finneran ’10 said. “It’s hard to get runs on your fastballs, and for your breaking stuff you need to be able to feel the seams with your fingers, which can be hard in the cold.”

That fact made Steve Gilman’s pitch count of 130 especially impressive in Game Two. The starter gave up five runs in just over six innings on the hill.

Finneran said 130 pitches is normally a lot of pitches regardless of the weather, but the count is particularly noteworthy in the cold.

The temperatures actually forced the postponement of Sunday’s games against the Lions of Columbia. Both coaches decided it was in the best interests for their teams to reschedule the games for today. The Lions were sent home Sunday morning and will return to New Haven on Monday morning for the doubleheader.

The Elis will start play at 12:00 p.m. and will most likely have used the day off to reflect on the games against Penn.

“This is good for the team,” Obregon said. “It will give us some time to rest and relax. Maybe too, Columbia will be tired from the two bus rides.”

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