The softball team returns home this weekend for the first time since March 2 to open its Ivy League season.

Yale (13-9-1) will take on Dartmouth (12-6) Saturday (12 p.m. WYBC AM 1340) and Harvard (13-4) Sunday in a pair of doubleheaders at the William O. Dewitt Jr. ’63 Family Field. The games mark the beginning of a two-week home stand against Ancient Eight foes.

“I think we’re going to match up real well,” Jesseka Bartholomew ’03 said. “[The Harvard game is] just going to be about who has the better day. Dartmouth, I think we should sweep.”

The Bulldogs go into the weekend having won five of their last seven games, including a thrilling 4-0 victory against Providence Wednesday. That game was scoreless until the top of the 12th inning when the Elis put four runs on the board.

The contest with the Friars showcased Yale’s strengths in all areas of the game. Pitchers Shayna Filson ’04 and Jillian Miles ’04 combined for 12 shutout innings, giving up just four hits and two walks combined. They also had a formidable defense behind them that committed just one error and threw out two Providence runners at the plate.

“I keep telling the kids, if you play the good defense, goods thing happen,” head coach Andy Van Etten said. “I think they’re starting to get comfortable in their positions, we finally stopped shuffling people around.”

At the plate, while Friar freshman phenom Nicole Bartholomew silenced the Bulldog batters for much of the game, some key at-bats and smart base-running gave Yale the victory.

“That we were able to hold our own against [Providence’s Bartholomew] was great,” said Jesseka Bartholomew, whose three-run home run in the 12th solidified the win for Yale. “After 12 innings, she was starting to wear down. It was just a matter of time.”

Through 23 games, the Elis are batting .228 as a team. Bartholomew leads the way with a .385 batting average, five home runs, and 23 RBIs. The third baseman hits third in a Bulldog lineup that is extremely strong in the top four spots. Captain Laura Beckert ’03 is hitting .292 in the leadoff position and Leah Kelley ’04 has been a strong presence on the base bath. The sophomore shortstop, who bats second, has successfully stolen a base on 11 out of her 13 attempts.

But Yale still has area’s of concern in its lineup. While the top four are hitting a combined .272 on the season, the bottom half of the order the Bulldogs played against Providence is hitting a mere .200.

“I’m happy with the top portion of the order, but the bottom half has got to start producing,” Van Etten said. “We can’t keep putting the pressure on the same kids, they’ve got to get some help from the bottom half of the order.”

Van Etten added that the team needs to maintain its current edge in pitching. The rotation of Cara Denver ’02, Filson and Miles have combined for a 1.80 ERA. Denver has given up just four walks in 65 innings pitched.

“We’re guardedly optimistic about our pitching,” Van Etten said. “It’s been right where we want it to be.”

The Elis will need their hot pitching to continue to cool opponents’ bats this weekend when two powerful teams come calling.

Dartmouth finished second in the Ivy League in 2001 behind co-champions Harvard and Cornell. The Big Green head into Saturday’s games off of back-to-back doubleheader sweeps over Fairfield and Rhode Island. The Crimson travel to New Haven on a six game winning streak.

“They both have very good pitching staffs,” Van Etten said. “The Ivies are tough — it’s going to be very competitive. It’s going to be a dog fight.”

In particular, the Bulldogs will have to watch out for Harvard’s Tiffany Whitton and Dartmouth’s Kisa Brannen. Whitton can play a variety of positions, including pitcher, and led the Ivy League last year with a .338 batting average. Brannen leads the Big Green in batting average, RBIs, and slugging percentage. The junior hit safely in 13 out of the team’s first 14 games.

With more parity in the league than ever before, the Elis have high hopes for the upcoming Ivy League season.

“I think we had a great game Wednesday night and we’re right where we want to be,” Beckert said. “Our first home game wasn’t even on our new field, so we’re excited to get out on our regular field and see what happens.”