With one four-game series standing between the Yale baseball team and its first division title since 1995, the Bulldogs recognize the importance of the upcoming games against Brown.
The Bulldogs (17–19, 9–7 Ivy) currently stand two games ahead of the Big Green in the Red Rolfe division of the Ivy League. But before they can take on either Penn or Columbia in the championship series, Yale must first get through the Bears (10–20, 4–12).
“If we win three games over Brown, then we clinch our half [of the league],” pitcher Chris Moates ’16 said. “That’s the goal. We want this in our hands. We don’t want to give Dartmouth an opportunity to come back; we want to take control right now.”
Brown has had a rough season. Just two weeks ago, longtime head coach Marek Drabinski resigned, and two of the team’s assistants have been sharing the managerial duties ever since. After Drabinski stepped down, however, the Bears have rebounded from a 0–8 start in Ivy play to split their last two conference series.
“We’re definitely not taking Brown lightly,” Moates said. ”We know that all the teams in the Ivy League are pretty similar teams, so we have to go at them with all we [have] got.”
If Yale can win three of its four games this weekend and clinch the division, it will do so on the strength of its pitching. Right-handed pitcher Chris Lanham ’16 has been lights-out in Ivy play, throwing 28.1 innings and allowing just a single run. He was honored as Ivy League Pitcher of the Week for the third time this season after hurling eight shutout innings against Harvard last weekend, yielding two hits and striking out five.
Beyond Lanham, the pitching of starters Chasen Ford ’17 and David Hickey ’14 will also be vital to the Bulldogs’ success. Ford is coming off a strong outing against Harvard, in which he allowed one run across five innings, and he is only a few weeks removed from shutting down a solid Cornell offense.
Hickey, meanwhile, has struggled in his previous two starts against Harvard and Dartmouth. The senior southpaw was in top form in his first two Ivy starts, however, allowing two runs over 13.1 innings against Columbia and Princeton.
“It’s been a matter of focus and trusting in the defense,” Lanham said in an email about his success in Ivy play. “I’ve been concentrating on throwing quality strikes low in the zone and the defense has done a great job of making the plays behind me.”
This year’s iteration of the Bulldogs has been particularly tough in late innings. With a 7–1 record in ball games decided by one run, including four walk-off victories, it has been hard to top the Elis towards the ends of close games.
While much of the credit goes to the bullpen, Yale’s hitters have been contributing up and down the order. In game one of last Sunday’s doubleheader against the Crimson, catcher Robert Baldwin ’15 hit a sacrifice fly to plate first baseman Eric Hsieh ’15 and break a scoreless tie in extras. And the nightcap saw infielders Nate Adams ’16 and Tom O’Neill ’16 come through in the clutch, as each had three RBI courtesy of multi-hit performances.
“They’ve done a great job,” Lanham said of the team’s hitters. “The games against Harvard were great examples of how our offense has come up with clutch hits when it matters most.”
Taking three of four against Brown would set another record for the Elis. Yale has not won more than 11 conference games in the 21st century, dating back to 1997. Since the Bulldogs’ last Ivy title in 1994, every other school in the Ancient Eight has won at least one championship.
The first pitch of Friday’s doubleheader at Brown is at 1:00 p.m. Saturday’s doubleheader at Yale will also start at 1:00 p.m.