A little warm weather brought the Bulldogs’ bats to life as Yale’s baseball team earned at least 12 hits in each game at the Homestead Challenge in Homestead, Fla., over spring break.
While the Elis went 2-4 on the trip, they proved that they have made serious strides since a disappointing campaign last spring. In its two wins, the squad fought back to beat Sacred Heart 9-8 and trounced local rival Quinnipiac 10-1. Powerhouse Florida International barely squeaked by Yale 7-5, in a game featuring stellar pitching by Eli starter Jon Steitz ’02, who struck out seven. Still, it is the team’s performance at the plate that team captain R. D. DeSantis ’01 wants to talk about.
“As a team, we hit better than people would have thought,” he said. “Prognosticators looking at our stats from last year would say that these guys can’t hit. But our guys are really producing.”
Several sophomores are coming into their own at the plate. First baseman Justin Walters tallied the Elis’ only home run of the trip on his way to a .500 batting average — second on the team only to captain DeSantis’ .520. Catcher Darren Beasley and outfielder Chris Elkins also performed admirably, hitting .435 and .370 respectively.
“One of our goals going into this trip was to work on our bats,” Elkins said. “The coaches are real happy with how we’re coming along.”
DeSantis thinks that it has just taken this long for the sophomores to adjust to the kind of pitching they face as Bulldogs. Many of the players on the team hail from the South — Florida in particular — including Elkins, Walters and DeSantis. DeSantis says that Floridians like himself grow up hitting fastballs and sometimes have difficulty adjusting to the style of play in New England, which is characterized by off-speed pitching.
“After some bumps in the road freshman year, [the sophomores] have come out and hit,” he said. “They’re learning to adjust to breaking balls. The coaches have been working with them to correct their swings.”
The case in point was the Bulldogs’ manhandling of Quinnipiac, in which seven different players got hits — six of whom also had RBIs. Freshman Randy Leonard led the way with two runs off of three hits in five at-bats.
In fact, Leonard was explosive all week. In Yale’s season opener against Boston College — a 12-6 loss — he went three for four and scored every time he got on base.
“Randy really blew it up in the first game,” Elkins said.
But holes in the pitching staff cost the Bulldogs games. With several pitchers on the mend and unable to maintain a normal workload, by the end of the trip Yale’s lack of depth on the mound started to take its toll. In the team’s final game, against St. Francis — arguably the least talented squad it faced the whole trip — coach John Stuper was forced to call on a reliever to start his first game ever.
Despite pitching well in several middle-inning appearances, relievers Mike Marone ’03 and Eric Naison-Phillips ’03 gave up 11 runs in the first inning against St. Francis. The Bulldogs never really had a chance after that, and when it was all over, the final score was 21-5.
“I think our record [for the trip] reflects the fact that we just ran out of pitching,” DeSantis said. “But we battled, and we will get those [recovering pitchers] where they need to be by the Ivy League games.”
DeSantis also feels that had his team gotten the chance to play the four games that were scheduled for this weekend — and subsequently cancelled due to weather — pundits would be measuring Yale’s success much differently. Saturday’s doubleheader against Sacred Heart, in which veterans Matt McCarthy ’02 and Steitz were to start, and yesterday’s against C. W. Post, were all games he felt the Bulldogs should win.
There is little time for hypotheticals, however, DeSantis admits. His team will have plenty of competition in the near future, with a rematch against Quinnipiac at home on Wednesday and two games at Pace this Saturday. For the scrappy Bulldog squad whose themes are hard work and tangible improvement, “could haves” and “would haves” are meaningless anyway.