The old saying goes, “a bad beginning makes a bad ending.” Yale baseball started its Ivy League season by dropping five of six and finished out its campaign in nearly the same fashion. Better moments existed in between, but the 2007 season was supposed to end somewhere in the NCAA Tournament. Instead, it closed with a 3-1 series loss to Brown.
The Bulldogs (16-27, 8-12 Ivy) lost the first three games to Brown (20-18, 14-6 Ivy) in the home-and-home four game set. Until the final game, which the Elis won 7-5, Yale couldn’t seem to get their bats going, while inconsistencies on the mound and in the field plagued the team as they have throughout the year.
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“This weekend was frustrating like a lot of the year was,” catcher Ryan Lavarnway ’09 said. “I can’t put my finger on what went wrong, but if we knew, we would have tried to fix it earlier in the season.”
The first three games saw a roller coaster of pitching performances. Stefan Schropp ’09 started the series by giving up seven runs in four innings. Brett Rosenthal ’07 followed to clean up the mess and kept the Elis in the game by surrendering only one run in the final three innings. Steve Gilman ’08 started Game Two on Saturday and filled a stat line eerily similar to Schropp’s: three innings, 10 hits, seven runs. The four relievers who came after did not fare much better.
On Sunday, Brandon Josselyn ’09 kept up his strong season by giving up only two runs in a six-inning complete game. Starter Chris Wietlispach ’08 finished a disappointing junior campaign on a strong note. He gave up only five hits and three runs in six innings in the second game of the twinbill on Sunday. But even a four-run Bulldog lead looked to be in jeopardy when the Bears got hot in the bottom of the ninth.
“We just ran into the same problems we’ve been dealing with all year,” Wietlispach said. “[Sunday’s games] were clean games, and it was a good way to go out against a team like Brown.”
All weekend, the pitchers received little support offensively at the plate or defensively in the field. The worst fielding team in the Ivy League looked like they were finally turning things around after back-to-back games without an error on Wednesday. But the Bulldogs were back to their old ways in Game Two on Saturday when they committed five errors and helped the Bears amass 15 runs, four of them unearned. The Bulldogs were able to overcome two more in Game Two on Sunday.
The Elis collected only seven runs in the first three games, including getting shut out in Game One on Sunday, when Brown starting pitcher Jeff Dietz squared off against Josselyn and allowed only five hits in seven innings of work. The Bulldogs did manage to put seven runs on the board in Game Two on Sunday and helped ace Wietlispach to only his second win of the season.
“We started getting shut out a lot, and things started happening that weren’t happening early in the year,” captain Justin Ankney ’07 said. “It’s hard to win games when you can’t score any runs.”
The team that once led the Ivy League in batting average has since slipped to third in the Ancient Eight, though two hitters, Lavarnway and Marc Sawyer ’07, are among the league’s best in individual batting average. Lavarnway was the true standout performer in the relatively potent Yale lineup. Coming into the weekend, he led the league in hits, doubles, RBI, home runs, total bases and batting average. It appears he will easily walk away with the Ivy League Triple Crown and should be considered the favorite for Ivy League Player of the Year, an honor Sawyer took home last season.
Just this weekend, Lavarnway broke three Yale records. His home run in Game One on Saturday broke Tony Paterno’s school record of 13 in a single season. Lavarnway’s 68th hit of the season in that same game eclipsed Bryan’s Hobbs 11-year-old mark of 67. Finally, Lavarnway’s two RBI in Game Two on Sunday brought his total to 55, good enough to break Dan Thompson’s Yale record of 53 set in 1996.
“Obviously, he’ll be the one person in the lineup people will be looking at next year,” Ankney said. “He didn’t see a slump all season, he was solid every game. I really can’t say enough about him.”
Lavarnway said he is proud of his accomplishments but realizes the level of pitching he faces is not as strong as what a PAC-10 or SEC hitter might see every game, and that his stat line must be kept in perspective.
Though the offense largely sputtered in this weekend’s collection of games, putting up a total of only 17 hits in the first three games, little blame for the mediocre season has been directed toward the batters. Sawyer batted just short of .400 and often joined Lavarnway and Ankney to create an intimidating middle of the order. Leadoff man Josh Cox ’08 led the Ivy League in steals and steal attempts. The team batted near .300 as a group, and was among the top in the league for runs scored.
“We did a lot of work in the offseason,” Lavarnway said. “We had a lot of talented players that could straight hit.”
The pitching was not as strong this season, though it seemed to be coming on as of late. The Bulldogs finished with a team ERA well over 6.50 and were near the bottom of the Ancient Eight in runs and hits allowed. The staff, comprised mostly of juniors and seniors, will remain largely intact for next year, and should continue to feature some of the best arms in the Ivy League. Many this season believed the statistics were deceiving.
“We were too good to play like we did,” Wietlispach said. “With the starting pitching we had, we should have won a lot more games. There isn’t really that one [problem] that I’ve come across so far.”
Brown sewed up the Rolfe Division of the Ivy League with its win over Yale in Game One on Sunday, edging out Harvard for the chance to take on the Quakers of Penn in the Ivy League championship series. Yale finished third in the division, ahead of Dartmouth and behind the Bears and the Crimson.
The team will now begin focusing on next season and will look for ways to improve on its sub-.500 Ivy League mark.
“Thinking ahead to next season starts this week now that the season is over,” Wietlispach said. “We don’t know what kind of impact our new class of freshman can have next year, so we’ll know even more in the fall and determine what our strengths are.”