The Bulldog baseball team (6-9, 2-2 Ivy) collided head-on this weekend with the start of its Ivy League schedule, playing a doubleheader at Princeton Saturday and another against Cornell at Yale Field Sunday. On both days, Yale got a taste of Ivy League success.
Emerging from this first stretch of league play, the Elis certainly are faring better than last year. Yale split the games against the defending Ivy champion and NCAA-qualifying Tigers (5-14, 1-1), 2-4 and 9-2. On Sunday, the Bulldogs split again, 6-4 and 5-14, against the Big Red (5-3, 1-1). Last year the Bulldogs left the same weekend 0-4.
The story of the weekend was pitching. When the Bulldogs’ staff performed well, the squad won. Or, in the case of the first Princeton game, almost won. When the pitching was off, the Bulldogs couldn’t win no matter how much they tinkered at the mound.
“The pitching was really good in three games,” head coach John Stuper said. “They never folded in the third game [of the weekend].”
In the first contest Saturday, Yale kept the potentially explosive Tigers to only one run through four innings. A triple in the fifth by Jon Watterson ended up being the only big play Princeton would need to squeak past Yale pitcher Matt McCarthy ’02. A single in the seventh inning brought in the fourth Tiger run.
Otherwise McCarthy — a cornerstone of the Elis’ rotation, along with fellow junior Jon Steitz ’02 — pitched well, giving up all four runs on only seven hits against 22 batters. He struck out seven.
Steitz went on to start the second Princeton game, and he pitched even better than he did in his last start — a 9-7 win against Quinnipiac last week. Unlike McCarthy, Steitz had the help of the Bulldog bats in his try at the Tigers.
The Bulldogs got off to a fast start at the plate. Before Steitz even took the mound his squad was leading 3-0. Princeton starter Chris Higgins started the game by walking Chris Elkins ’03 and Justin Leonard ’03. Captain R. D. DeSantis ’01 turned a single into a double on an error by the Tiger left fielder, sending Leonard to third and Elkins home. Leonard and DeSantis both scored on another error, this time by Princeton’s center fielder.
Steitz immediately answered the Princeton pitcher’s two walks by opening with two of his 14 strikeouts on the day, then retiring the side on a ground out to Mike Hirschfield ’03.
Two more scoring outbursts — in the fourth and sixth innings — cushioned Steitz’s lead. In both innings the Elis took their time moving runners around the bases, relying on RBI singles to put runs on the board.
After the sixth, Steitz went on to strike out eight more and continued the scoreless streak that began in the third inning. When the dust cleared, the Bulldogs had beaten the defending Ivy League champion Tigers by a sizeable seven-run margin.
The emotion of this victory — the Bulldogs’ first against an Ivy opponent other than Harvard in over a year — carried overnight into the first game of the Cornell doubleheader. Pitcher Craig Breslow ’02, a reliever last year who underwent surgery in the off-season, turned in a breakthrough starting performance. His eight innings were almost flawless, with the only two runs he gave up coming in the sixth inning.
“Breslow did a nice job against us,” Cornell head coach Tom Ford said. “He mixed speeds really well, kept us guessing.”
But his most impressive number was his 16 strikeouts, surpassing even Steitz’s mark of 14 from the day before.
“It felt good to have success as a starter,” Breslow said. “This was only my second start this year. I’ve never had close to that many strikeouts here in a game.”
When Doug Feller came on in relief of Breslow in the ninth, the Bulldogs led 3-2. The Big Red managed to move runners into scoring position against Feller, and a sacrifice grounder to first brought the tying run across the plate.
While a three-run 10th inning for the Elis assured the 6-4 Yale victory, the win went to Feller and not Breslow since the score became tied on Feller’s watch in the ninth inning.
With the momentum of two wins at its back, the baseball squad attempted to stretch the streak to three. But starter Eric Naison-Phillips ’03 and the remainder of the pitching staff were unable to stop the Cornell assault, giving up 14 runs — including three home runs.
DeSantis left the final game with a sore hamstring, and Stuper said he would sit his captain out against Seton Hall Tuesday if necessary to guarantee his readiness for next weekend’s games against Columbia and Penn.
After the game, Stuper called a meeting of his pitching staff even before the players headed to the locker room. He reminded them that their team cannot succeed without a reliable fifth starter in the rotation. Then he offered the spot to anyone willing to fill it.
“We need one of the younger guys to step up and be number five [in the rotation],” he said. “They’re all capable; they’ve all had shining moments so far.”
Until he finds his fifth man, he will have to be content with splitting weekends against Ivy foes instead of winning them outright.