A set of close losses to top-ranked teams and a dominant Ivy League campaign brought the 2017 Yale baseball team into the NCAA tournament’s Corvallis, Oregon regional with many spectators wondering about the Bulldogs’ true legitimacy on the national stage. The Blue wasted no time in asserting themselves on Friday afternoon against a stalwart Power Five–conference opponent, combining early ammunition with lockdown pitching in a 5–1 upset win over No. 2-seeded Nebraska.
The Elis’ jumped on the Cornhuskers’ Jake Meyers early at Oregon State’s Goss Stadium at Coleman Field and never looked back, pounding out 12 hits in the ballgame and plating runs in four different innings. On the flip side, ace Scott Politz ’19 picked up his first-team All-Ivy campaign right where he left off, going the distance while scattering just six hits and a lone earned run.
“Considering the opponent and the circumstances, it was our most complete effort of the entire year,” head coach John Stuper said.
The Ivy League’s top run-producing lineup struck for two quick runs in the top of the first innings, loading the bases with three singles before first baseman Griffin Dey ’19 shot a grounder back up the middle to score centerfielder Tim DeGraw ’19 and second baseman Simon Whiteman ’19. The Bulldogs continued to apply pressure on the Big Ten regular-season champions in the second, when catcher Andrew Herrera ’17 opened the frame by crushing a 3–1 offering well over the left field fence for his fourth homer of the season.
Despite recording a single and scoring a run of his own in the bottom of the first inning, Meyers — a finalist for the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award — turned in a forgettable afternoon on the hill for Nebraska, giving up five earned runs on nine hits in just 5.2 innings. The junior righthander, who did not throw with exceptional velocity, struggled to keep the ball low in the strike zone and out of reach. Yale hitters up and down the batting order turned elevated fastballs into base hits, and consistently kept runners in scoring position.
“[Yale] grinded out at-bats,” Nebraska head coach Darin Erstad said. “They weren’t trying to do too much — they stayed in the middle of the field and kept adding on. I can’t remember the last time we were outcompeted, but we got outcompeted today.”
Politz, meanwhile, dazzled in Yale’s first trip to the national tournament since 1993. The Austin, Texas native induced a bevy of soft contact throughout his 124-pitch outing, relying on airtight defense from all four infielders for 15 of the game’s outs.
In addition to the routine plays, Politz and his teammates around the horn provided several defensive gems: Dey left his feet to snare a scorching liner off the bat of left fielder Mojo Hagge to end the fourth inning, and the pitcher helped his own cause with a kick save to start a 1-4-3 putout in the seventh.
“I started off with a lot of off speed, because one of my better techniques is getting ahead early with off speed,” Politz said. “As we went on I started pounding it with fastballs and they weren’t squaring them up. I was getting a lot of rollovers and ground balls, and executed some pitches later when it really mattered.”
Nebraska reliever Robbie Palkert contributed six strikeouts in 3.1 scoreless innings to effectively counter Politz for the second half of the ballgame, but the Cornhuskers, time and again, failed to break the resolve of Yale’s top arm. Leading 5–1 in the ninth inning, Politz sat down the final three batters of the afternoon in order to put the final touches on his NCAA Division I–leading seventh complete game.
“We had no answer for his cutter,” Erstad said. “He was pounding the fastball away and mixing in the occasional breaking ball. That’s what pitchers do: they mix and match and keep you off balance. We pretty much got carved up.”
With the win, Yale moves into the winners’ bracket of the Corvallis regional. The Bulldogs will play No. 1 overall seed Orgeon State on Saturday night at 10 p.m. ET.