With 18 nonconference games behind them, the baseball team starts its Ivy League season this weekend.

After a tough loss to the University of Connecticut Wednesday, the Bulldogs (8-10) hit the road April 5 and 6, with double headers against Cornell University (6-7) and Princeton University (7-14). The Elis will not find any easy victories in the Ancient Eight this season, with tough competition around every corner.

“Every team is competitive and any team can beat any other team on any given day,” outfielder Randy Leonard ’04 said. “It’s going to be a dogfight every single game.”

The Elis have been swinging the bat well of late, with four starters batting over .300.

“You need a different guy everyday to step up,” said Leonard, who is batting .314. “You need that to be successful.”

Dave Fortenbaugh ’03 leads the team with a .405 average. All-Ivy League outfielder Chris Elkins ’03, with a team-leading 15 RBIs, continues to be one of the driving forces behind Yale’s offense.

Josh Zabar ’06 has had little trouble adjusting to college baseball, batting .317 with one home run and 7 RBI.

The Connecticut pitching staff that allowed six runs against the Bulldogs wednesday is as good as any in the Ivy League, Leonard said.

Yale starts the Ivy League season two games under .500, going 5-5 since its return from a spring training trip in Brandenton, Fla.

“We could be doing better [and have] won a few more games, but we’ve been competitive in every game,” pitcher Mike Elias ’05 said.

The Elis’ pitching staff has been consistent throughout the season. Elias (2-1) and Josh Sowers ’05 (3-1) form the nucleus of a staff with an ERA of 3.43.

Alec Smith ’06 (1-0) has given the team a boost out of the bullpen with two saves and a .60 ERA in nine appearances.

Despite the successes of the Elis’ bullpen, Yale’s defense must improve if the Bulldogs want to improve upon their record, captain Steven Duke ’03 said.

The Bulldogs struggled against the Huskies, making four errors in the game.

This weekend, Yale hopes they can put together a performance that combines solid hitting, pitching, and defense for its much-anticipated Ancient Eight opener.

“You try to treat the nonconference games the same, [but] when you show up for the Ivy games, there’s more of a sense of urgency,” Elias said. “It’s definitely more exciting.”

On Saturday in Ithaca, N.Y., the Bulldogs face the Big Red, who are in the midst of a five-game winning streak including two wins over Penn State. Cornell could be rusty, however, not having played since March 25.

Ned Van Allen leads the Big Red offense, batting .349 with seven RBIs.

In Princeton, N.J., on Sunday, Yale faces a Tiger team that has gone 5-5 in its last 10 games, with wins over the University of Vermont and the College of William and Mary in that stretch.

Ryan Quillian (2-2) is the ace of the Tigers’ pitching staff. Ivy League pitcher of the year in 2001, Quillian has a 2.88 ERA.

“We’re hitting the ball, the pitchers are doing a good job,” Duke said. “We haven’t played great defense, but it’s there. We’re certainly ready to go and win some Ivy League games.”