BASEBALL: ‘Divine’ catch saves win

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Photo by Graham Harboe.

On paper, the game could not have been more of a mismatch. The Yale baseball team, coming off a 13–25 season last year, was up against No. 3 Louisiana State Tigers in Baton Rouge, La. yesterday afternoon. The Tigers, just five years removed from a national championship, routed the Bulldogs 19–0 on Friday and held the Elis to a measly four hits on Saturday in a 3–0 victory.

But Sunday, Yale turned the tables on the Tigers, charging back from a 6–0 deficit to shock the college baseball world and beat LSU 8–7. The victory is Yale’s first against a top-five team since taking out No. 5 South Carolina in 2008, and likely the first win over a top-three team in school history, though no such official data exists.

“This is an unbelievable win for our program,” outfielder Eric Hsieh ’15 said. “Heading into Florida and Ivy League play, it’s a great way to start because we’re all pumped up and now we really know that we can play.”

The upset seemed unlikely from the get-go. Starting pitcher Michael Coleman ’14 yielded four runs in the first inning after allowing the first six batters to reach base. Two unearned runs scored in the fourth following an LSU triple and a sacrifice fly, and Coleman left after the frame.

Things were not much better for the Bulldogs (1–2, 0–0 Ivy) when at bat against the Tigers (7–2, 0–0 SEC). It wasn’t until the fourth inning that the Bulldogs could muster a hit, and even then, leadoff singles by second baseman Nate Adams ’16 and Hsieh were squandered.

During the fifth inning, however, bounces started going Yale’s way. Captain Cale Hanson ’14 opened the inning with a single off LSU starter Cody Glenn, and center fielder Green Campbell ’15 followed that with another single through the left side. Three more singles from third baseman Richard Slenker ’17, catcher Robert Baldwin ’15 and Adams put Yale on the board, and after a fielder’s choice and a sacrifice fly, the Elis found themselves down just 6–4.

“[Before the fifth inning], someone in our dugout said ‘We’re playing for pride, let’s go square something up,’” Hanson said. “Then I hit a single. Campbell hit a single. We had [a total of] five singles in a row. We were looking around like, ‘Why not?’”

After loading the bases with no outs, right-hander Chris Moates ’16 escaped the fifth allowing just a single run following a double play and a lineout.

In the sixth inning, outfielder Brent Lawson ’16 singled to chase Glenn from the game, and after a throwing error by the LSU third baseman and a sacrifice groundout, the Bulldogs found themselves with runners on second and third and one out. An attempted squeeze by Slenker resulted in Lawson getting caught at the plate, but Baldwin bailed out the freshman by hitting an RBI single to score Hanson.

Yale tied the game in the seventh inning by showing off its power-hitting ability. A leadoff walk by Hsieh and a double by first baseman Jacob Hunter ’14 set the table for designated hitter Kevin Fortunato ’14, who doubled down the left-field line to tie it up at seven. Another failed squeeze, however, meant that the Bulldogs were unable to take the lead.

LSU had its own base-running troubles in the seventh. On a single by Christian Ibarra, designated hitter Jake Fraley attempted to go from first to third, and Hsieh nailed him to get the second out of the inning. Chris Lanham ’16 then induced a lineout with two runners on base to end the Tigers’ scoring threat.

“We made some outstanding plays in big moments,” Campbell said. “Eric Hsieh with the outfield assist at third base, Bob Baldwin throwing out runners at second base … it was a great team effort.”

With the game tied at seven in the top of the eighth, Campbell reached base through a bunt single down the third base line. Slenker bunted him to second, and a groundout to shortstop from Baldwin moved Campbell to third. But Campbell eventually scored on a throwing error by LSU reliever Parker Bugg on a ground ball from Adams.

The bottom of the eighth ended on perhaps the most clutch defensive play the Bulldogs will have all season. Following a two-out double, Campbell tracked down a fly ball in the left-center gap and made a full-extension dive to maintain the Yale lead.

“It was easily the best catch I’ve ever seen a Yale outfielder make,” Hanson said. “If it doesn’t make the SportsCenter Top 10, I’m going to be really upset. … He just should not have even been close. It was ridiculous.”

Campbell, who is from Shreveport, La. and grew up an LSU fan, said it was a dream come true to play in front of the LSU crowd and over 100 of his friends and family members.

He also said he made the catch thanks to some divine intervention.

“I got a great read on it, but I honestly didn’t think I was going to make it,” Campbell said. “I just got a burst of speed from God, I laid out and caught it, and it was the greatest feeling ever.”

In the ninth inning, after the Bulldogs failed to score on a sacrifice fly by Hanson, Lanham got two outs before a pair of hits led Yale coach John Stuper to move Hanson from shortstop to the mound. On a 1—2 pitch, Hanson completed the upset by getting Tyler Moore to fly out to Lawson in right field.

Yale’s other two games against LSU did not go as well, as they fell 19–0 on Friday and 3–0 on Saturday. The latter game featured the debut of heralded pitcher Chasen Ford ’17, who threw 6.1 innings and allowed just two earned runs.

The Bulldogs play the University of New Haven on Wednesday at Yale Field before heading down to Florida for the RussMatt Invitational this weekend.

 

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