Despite strong play and late leads during its spring break trip to Florida, the baseball team couldn’t come up with a winning combination in many of its early season games. But of all the elements exist for a successful second half of the season, and the Bulldogs (3-9) hope they will fall into place just in time for the start of Ivy play April 6.
“We’re working hard, and patiently waiting for everything to click at once,” said outfielder Chris Elkins ’03, whose .400 batting average leads the Elis.
Head coach John Stuper has been pleased thus far with his team’s efforts.
“I’m very optimistic for the season,” he said. “I like this year’s team and they’ve worked hard.”
Although the Bulldogs lost nine games over the break, they had leads entering the eighth inning in six of them. This is a sign of both their balanced and strong play but also the team’s inconsistencies and inabilities to hold those leads late in the game.
“With each loss we are learning what it is going to take to win,” said first baseman Justin Walters ’03. “We all have confidence that we can win.”
Walters, who hit Yale’s first home run of the year against Pace University, is part of a veteran infield that will be one of the key ingredients to Yale’s success this season. After a mid-season injury that left him out of the lineup for half of Yale’s games last year, he has returned to the diamond and the Elis will depend on his power hitting.
Second baseman Steven Duke ’03, who was Honorable Mention All-Ivy last season, has gone 8-16 recently to raise his average to .326, he and drove in four runs in Yale’s comeback victory over Pace.
Starters Mike Hirschfield ’03 and rookie Chris Esper ’05 round out the infield and have helped fuel a very reliable defensive unit.
“We haven’t had many errors in any of the games we’ve played,” said Elkins, who was recently named to the weekly Ivy League Honor Roll for his hitting. “We have confidence that if we dive for a ball or attempt a hard play there will be someone behind us if we miss the ball.”
Elkins is joined in the outfield by Randy Leonard ’04, and Dave Fortenbaugh ’03. CJ Orrico ’05 and Mike Gulker ’05 will spend time there as well.
Rounding out the defense behind the plate is two-time All-Ivy Honorable Mention recipient Darren Beasley ’03, who can also make an impact offensively. He contributed 3 RBIs in Yale’s win over Pace.
After last year’s 66 strikeouts, lefty ace Craig Breslow ’02, the team captain, will see to it that his talented defense will not see too much action. His 11.5 strikeouts per game was twelfth in the nation in that category.
Jon Steitz ’02 was not far behind with an 11.3 average, but he is missing from the Eli roster after signing this fall with the Milwaukee Brewers.
His absence will be compensated for by Breslow, who has been named to the Ivy League Honor Roll twice thus far, and fellow seniors Matt McCarthy ’02, with a 1.88 ERA, and Doug Feller ’02, who struck out 37 batters in 39 innings pitched last season. Freshmen Mike Elias ’05 and Josh Sowers ’05 have also seen action and could crack the starting rotation.
Doug Shimokawa ’04 closed out several games in Florida and will likely be in that spot for the rest of the season, possibly splitting relief duties with Feller.
“We’re figuring out who’s on the mound still,” head coach Stuper said. “I’m in the process of getting pitching in order and deciding who is going to be up for our league games.”
The Ivy League games will not start for Yale until April 6, when the Elis take on Columbia.
Princeton and Harvard have been at the top of the conference since 1996, with each team taking the title three times. Yale’s last title came in 1994 when the Bulldogs placed atop the division for the third year in a row.
This weekend the Elis will take on non-league opponent Vermont at Yale Field at 3 p.m. Friday and 12 p.m. Saturday.
After last year’s 12-22 record, there is room and potential for improvement.
“I definitely think that we are a more fundamentally sound team than last year due to our practice style, hard work, and maturity,” Walters said.