Following an emphatic sweep of Ancient Eight rival Princeton, the Yale baseball team is firmly set in first place of the Red Rolfe division of the Ivy League after a 3–1 weekend that also included a walk-off victory over Cornell.
The Bulldogs (12–13, 5–3 Ivy) found success thanks to small ball play and a pair of walk-off plate appearances by third baseman Richard Slenker ’17.
“We’re excited,” captain Cale Hanson ’14 said. “This is the best Yale team I’ve been a part of in my four years here. We’re sitting tall going into our half of Ivy League play and we’re excited about it.”
Saturday’s first game against the Big Red (13–11, 5–3) was a classic pitchers’ duel. Right-handed flamethrower Chasen Ford ’17, making just his second career Ivy start, and Cornell pitcher Michael Byrne each dominated the opposing lineup, with neither offense plating a runner through the first six innings.
A pair of walks to open the fourth inning, however, put Ford in a jam. After Cornell’s Matt Hall bunted the runners over to second and third, the freshman induced an awkward foul out to the third baseman and a lazy fly ball to centerfielder Green Campbell ’15 to get out of the inning unscathed.
In the following inning, Ford again walked the leadoff man, but escaped the pickle when the Bulldogs called a perfectly timed pitchout. Catcher Robert Baldwin ’15 nailed the Big Red’s leadoff hitter at second trying to steal, mitigating the threat.
Meanwhile, the Yale offense struggled to get anything going against Byrne, who leads the Big Red with a sparkling 1.56 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 34.2 innings pitched. The lanky lefty allowed only two hits all game, both singles, and racked up eight punch outs. He sat down the side in order in the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings, sending the game to extra innings in a scoreless tie.
But Yale pitcher Chris Moates ’16 came out dealing after relieving Ford in the seventh. He struck out one in the seventh and the side in the eighth.
“I really have to tip my cap to Ford, Moates and Chris Lanham ’16,” Hanson said. “They’re incredible for us and I’m really excited how they’re pitching. It’s really reassuring, even when you’re not hitting your best as a team, to have a guy that … keeps your team in the game.”
That frame was also when the Bulldogs came alive. Pinch-hitter Harrison White ’17 reached base following a poor throw from Cornell’s shortstop, and Baldwin bunted him to second only to himself be safe after an errant throw by the pitcher. After second baseman Nate Adams ’16 bunted into a fielder’s choice, Hanson walked to load the bases.
Campbell, the ensuing hitter, worked the count full off of Byrne — and, in a rarely seen move, a reliever sent in after two pitches — before swinging at a pitch that could very well have been ball four to strike out. But Slenker connected on his own payoff pitch, lining the ball into right field for the walk-off win.
“You approach them the same way,” Slenker said of his walk-off at-bat. “You look to get a pitch to hit. I went to a full count and he threw me a 3–2 fastball away, the same pitch he threw [Campbell] before. I thought he was going to go back to it, and luckily he did.”
The sunshine that greeted the Bulldogs on Sunday proved to be a good omen for the doubleheader against the Tigers. Starter Chris Lanham ’16 continued the strong run for Yale pitchers by throwing 6.1 innings and yielding just a single run on five hits.
Yale scored its only run before extra innings through some luck and some heads-up baseball. Slenker was hit by a pitch and advanced to second on a bunt. After a wild pitch moved the runner to third, Campbell came through with a squeeze bunt to score him.
“We work on [situational baseball] all the time,” Hanson said. “We’re always talking about the mental side, the fundamental side, and small ball is obviously a big part. We work on bunting every day in practice and it paid off today. More than anything, that [comes down to] coaching to make sure we’re ready to win an Ivy League game.”
But after Lanham allowed a single and a walk in the top of the seventh, Hanson came in to pitch and allowed a single to tie the score at one. Yale’s offense failed to get on the board in the bottom half of the inning.
In the Elis’ second extra-inning game in as many days, they again found a way to walk off with the victory. Baldwin singled to left to start the bottom of the eighth and reached second following an error by the Princeton outfielder. Second baseman Nate Adams ’16 bunted Baldwin to third, causing the Tigers to intentionally walk both Hanson and right fielder David Toups ’15 to load the bases and create a force play. The Tigers then moved Jonathan York from right field to the mound to replace starter Cameron Mingo, but he walked Slenker to force in the winning run. Slenker said it was his first career walk-off base on balls.
Yale got off to an inauspicious start against Princeton in game two of its doubleheader, with southpaw David Hickey ’14 allowing a run in each of the first two innings of the game. But Hickey soon settled down, yielding just two hits and no runs over the next 4.1 innings.
In the third inning, the Elis came through with some clutch hitting. A pair of singles by Baldwin and Adams, the latter on a bunt, put two runners on, and a Princeton error loaded the bases with no outs. Two sacrifice flies by Slenker and designated hitter Kevin Fortunato ’14 knotted the score at two apiece.
“I wish there was a formula for success there,” Hanson said of the team’s recent knack for clutch hits. “I think it’s just a lot of guys that have the determination to win, and that’s why we’re so successful.”
The bottom half of the lineup came through in the sixth inning for Yale. After right fielder Brent Lawson ’16 was intentionally walked and first baseman Alec Hoeschel ’17 was hit by a pitch to juice the bases, Baldwin doubled down the line to break the tie and deliver a two-run lead to the Elis.
From there, Hickey recorded an out before Moates came on in relief with two on base in the top of the seventh frame. The Smithville, Ga. product induced a double play and then set the Tigers down in the final two innings to earn the save.
“They’re doing awesome,” Slenker said of Yale’s hurlers. “They’re getting outs and they’re keeping us in the game. Chris Moates has done an unbelievable job coming in relief and challenging the hitters.”
The other game of the weekend, a 6–4 loss to Cornell, featured a two-out, two-run single by the Big Red that broke a deadlock in the ninth. But even with the loss, the Bulldogs sit three games in front of Dartmouth in the Red Rolfe division. The other three members of Yale’s division, which also includes Harvard and Brown, were swept this weekend, padding Yale’s lead.
The Elis play two non-conference games on Wednesday against Fairfield before a four game series at Dartmouth this weekend. Wednesday’s games start at 3:30 and 5:30 p.m.