The Yale baseball team has built up significant momentum in the first half of its Ivy League season, jumping out to its best record through the first eight conference games in six years. This weekend at Dartmouth, the Bulldogs’ performance may determine whether or not that momentum can translate to a playoff spot.
The Bulldogs (12–15, 5–3 Ivy) will go head-to-head with the Big Green (7–16, 2–6) for a four-game series. Because Dartmouth will most likely be Yale’s main competition for the top spot in the Ivy League’s Red Rolfe division, the series will have large implications for either team’s chances of making the Ivy League Championship Series.
Yale currently holds a three-game lead over Dartmouth in the Red Rolfe division and could either extend that lead or lose it in the games this weekend.
“It’s a big weekend because Dartmouth is the favorite every single year,” captain and shortstop Cale Hanson ’14 said. “They’re off to a rough start, but they’re the team to beat in our minds. We’re going to be putting our best foot forward and hopefully we come out on top.”
Of the three Ivy opponents that Yale is yet to face, Dartmouth may be the strongest, having taken games from Cornell and Columbia in the first half of the conference season, but the team has still experienced a significant decline in the past year.
Dartmouth is traditionally a perennial powerhouse in the Ivy League, as it has won the Red Rolfe division over the Bulldogs for the past six years. Last year, the Big Green took its series at Yale 3–1 en route to a 15–5 conference record and Ivy runner-up finish. But the team has faltered this year after losing all four members of its 2013 starting pitching rotation to a higher power: Major League Baseball.
The relative inexperience of Dartmouth’s new pitching staff has led to a 4.05 conference ERA, seventh in the Ancient Eight, while Yale’s conference ERA is fifth in the league at 3.66.
Center fielder Green Campbell ’15 noted, however, that playing in Hanover will be difficult regardless of the talent that the Big Green show on paper.
“It’s tough to play at [Dartmouth’s] place,” Campbell said. “They have a lot of fans that come out, they’re loud and they chirp a lot to us as players. As long as we stay within our realm of who we are, hard-nosed with excellent pitching and excellent defense, it’ll be just fine.”
Excellent pitching has carried the Bulldogs all season and will look to keep momentum going this weekend.
Starter Chasen Ford ’17 pitched six shutout innings in Yale’s 1–0 win over Cornell on Saturday and is expected to start the weekend off this upcoming Saturday. Michael Coleman ’14 will likely pitch game two on Saturday, followed by ace Chris Lanham ’16 and southpaw David Hickey ’14 on Sunday.
Lanham has allowed just one run in 13.1 innings pitched in conference this season, while Hickey is 2–0 in conference after seven shutout frames at Columbia last week and a 6.1 inning, two-run performance last Sunday.
Relief pitcher Chris Moates ’16 has also been stellar for the Bulldogs in the Ivy season, throwing well enough to be awarded Ivy League Pitcher of the Week last week after allowing just one run over almost seven innings of relief.
“[Moates] has been a huge piece of our successes so far,” Lanham said in an email. “To have a guy that can come in and pitch well multiple times in key situations over the course of a weekend is invaluable.”
Yale also holds the advantage offensively heading into the game with 4.44 runs per game to Dartmouth’s 3.65. Like all teams in the Ivy League, however, the Big Green lineup has individual performers that pose a threat.
Most notably, outfielder Jeff Keller led the entire NCAA in doubles per game last season with 0.53 and held a .702 slugging percentage, good for fifth in the country. This year, Keller has shown a slight power outage but remains Dartmouth’s leader offensively with a .310 batting average and .494 slugging percentage. Keller is also fifth in the Ivy League with eight stolen bases on 10 attempts this season.
Though a sweep would put Yale in excellent position for winning the Red Rolfe division, Hanson said that just maintaining the three-game lead over Dartmouth would be a positive for the Bulldogs.
“Splitting the series is never a bad thing,” Hanson said. “Realistically, taking three would be an awesome weekend and taking two would be nothing to hang our head about. As long as we can take two, it’ll be a good weekend.”
Both doubleheaders will begin at noon on Saturday and Sunday.