Seven months of intense preparation have built up to this coming weekend. The Yale baseball team is ready for the challenge.

On Friday, the Bulldogs (11-9, 0-0 Ivy) will travel to New York to face Columbia for their first Ivy League match of the season, a doubleheader with great importance to Yale’s championship hopes. The Lions (4-17, 2-2) have had a difficult year, beginning their spring trip with a 10-game losing streak and stumbling out of the gate in the league season by splitting their series with the University of Pennsylvania. The Elis will look to their offense and pitching to take advantage of this slow start.

One reason for Columbia’s lackluster season thus far is its shaky starting lineup. The Lions have few power threats in a lineup that has a combined .357 slugging percentage, the lowest in the Ivy League. One of their few offensive standouts is catcher Michael DeFazio, who is sporting a .350 batting average and 10 RBIs on the season.

Columbia pitching has also been touched up this season, with nobody on the staff boasting an ERA below 4.60. The Lions’ hurlers have given up 140 bases due to walks or hit batsmen in only 165 innings of work.

The Bulldog lineup should look to capitalize on Columbia pitching mistakes, and Yale’s pitching should attempt to work within the strike zone and avoid giving up bases on balls, right-hander Brian Irving ’07 said.

“The keys to our success are the same as always: try to get ahead of hitters, and throw quality strikes,” he said.

On Saturday, the team will continue its road trip in Philadelphia, where it takes on the Quakers in an afternoon doubleheader. Penn (6-14, 2-2) has fared slightly better than Columbia, in part due to its consistent and balanced offense. Catcher Josh Corn is hitting at a .369 clip, with five doubles and an imposing .453 on-base percentage. Outfielder Kyle Armeny is hitting .320 with three doubles, two homers and 17 RBIs on the year. And center fielder Joey Boaen was recently named Ivy League Player of the Week for clubbing three home runs in a five-game span. Yale pitching must find a way to deal with these sluggers in order to achieve success.

Though Penn’s lineup has been solid, its pitching has been anything but steady. The team owns an 8.52 earned run average, mostly due to a relief corps that has struggled throughout the year. One standout on the staff is starter Doug Brown, who has three wins and a 3.05 ERA to go with 22 strikeouts in 20 innings of work.

Despite its superior record, the baseball team is not taking anything for granted in the upcoming series.

“The 11-9 record we have is nice, but it means nothing once we start Ivy League play. It’s a new season for us starting this weekend,” catcher Eric Rasmussen ’06 said. “We just have to play up to our capability.”

This weekend, the Bulldogs will need to concentrate on the techniques that have brought them success in the past. Patience at the plate, executing fundamentals and keeping the ball in the ballpark will be key to a winning weekend. The team will look to starters Jon Hollis ’06 and Alec Smith ’06 to get back on track and showcase the skills that made them anchors of the pitching staff last year.

“They have a lot of experience and they’re both very talented,” closer Brett Rosenthal ’07 said. “So we feel confident when they’re out on the mound.”