BASEBALL: first pitch imminent for Elis

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Photo by Graham Harboe.

Despite the snow still frozen to the ground and the frigid temperatures outside, spring is right around the corner in New Haven, and spring means baseball. And this spring, things are looking up for the Yale team.

Only three seniors graduated from last year’s squad, and though the Bulldogs went just 13–25, a respectable 10–10 finish in the Ivy League headlined by a season-ending sweep of Brown gives the Bulldogs reason to look forward to this season.

This year’s pitchers look to be much improved compared to last season’s pitching staff, which ranked in the upper half of the Ancient Eight. Every pitcher returns this year, including southpaw David Hickey ’14, who was selected to the All-Ivy second team last season.

“[Hickey] had an unbelievable Ivy season. It’s hard to top a 0.00 ERA,” said pitcher Ben Joseph ’15. “But it’s going to be big for him to set the tone for the season in the first start of the year and to continue it through the road trip and into the Ivy League opener.”

Hickey, however, is by no means the only stud on the Bulldogs’ staff, which posted a 2.68 ERA in conference games in 2013. Rob Cerfolio ’14 was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 34th round of the MLB Draft after posting a 2.94 ERA over 49 innings pitched but chose to return to Yale. Six-foot-seven right-hander Michael Coleman ’14 acted as the staff workhorse last season, throwing 54.2 innings and allowing just a single home run.

Four other players saw significant action on the mound last year. A pair of freshmen, Chris Lanham ’16 and Chris Moates ’16, threw 42.1 innings apiece and started 11 games between them. Joseph, who will miss the season due to injury, struck out 29 batters in just 28 innings of work. Even Hanson got in on the pitching fun, transitioning to the mound after an injury in mid-March and putting up a 1.16 WHIP (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched).

“We’re really excited about our depth on the mound,” Hanson said. “We did a great job last year, and we brought back every single pitcher.”

A trio of freshmen will join this established corps, and all three could contribute from day one. Chasen Ford ’17 was named Baseball America’s preseason Ivy League Rookie of the Year and could crack the Elis’ starting rotation, according to Hanson. With a fastball that can touch 92 miles per hour, Ford chose the Bulldogs over Duke, Stanford and defending champion UCLA. Jackson McClain ’17 and walk-on David McCullough ’17 also add depth to the staff.

The Bulldogs have the smallest roster in the Ivy League, making it imperative that the Bulldogs replenish their pitching depth every year to maintain a stable of arms.

“[Ford] is a big, tall pitcher that can eat a lot of innings for us and maybe even be in the starting rotation,” Hanson said. “Another pitcher [McClain] is a hard-throwing guy that should be pretty effective coming out of the bullpen … And we never really expect a walk-on, but much less a walk-on to be so effective.”

As good as the pitching staff may be, its efforts are for naught without some help from the position players. The Bulldogs lost three starters from last year’s squad, including captain and all-Ivy first team selection Chris Piwinski ’13. Designated hitter Josh Scharff ’13, who hit .284 last season, and outfielder Cam Squires ’13 also graduated.

But the Elis will be buoyed by an experienced infield. Hanson will man shortstop, which he played until an injury forced him to the mound last season, and his double play partner will be second baseman Nate Adams ’16. Jacob Hunter ’14 will hold down the fort at first after posting a .336 average and a .391 on-base percentage in 33 starts last season. And Richard Slenker ’17 is starting at third after winning the job.

“I really think we’re going to have one of the better defenses, not only in the Ivy League, but in the country,” Cerfolio said. “If we go out there and throw strikes and give the guys behind us a chance to make plays, good things are going to happen, especially with the way we played defense in the fall.”

Joseph agreed, saying that having a defense like this behind him is a great confidence booster.

The outfield, however, is much more wide-open. Though Green Campbell ’15 is the starter in centerfield after recording a sensational .391 batting average in 16 games, the corner outfield spots remain anybody’s to seize. Outfielders Eric Hsieh ’15 and Joe Lubanski ’15 each played extensively in those roles last year.

Other players that figure to make a big impact on the lineup card include David Toups ’15, who led Yale in RBIs and runs scored, and all-Ivy second team third baseman Brent Lawson ’16, who hit .281 and notched seven doubles on the season.

“We have a lot of guys that know how to work the count and score runs effectively,” Cerfolio said. “The hardest thing when facing our lineup is not to give up those extra one or two things to help, like walks and errors, because we have guys that can capitalize on that.”

Behind the plate, catcher Robert Baldwin ’15 will be the starting backstop. He played in 11 games in the field last season and appeared in eight more as a reliever.

With so much talent returning to the field this year, it is no wonder that the Bulldogs have their eyes set firmly on the prize: taking home the Ivy League championship.

“We want to win the Ivy League,” Hanson said. “That’s on the forefront of all of our minds.”

Yale opens its season this Friday at No. 3 Louisiana State.

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