With the start of the Yale baseball team’s 150th season delayed due to inclement weather, the Bulldogs finally began their season in North Carolina over break, finishing their spring road trip with a winning record.
The Elis (6–4, 0–0 Ivy) traveled to warmer weather and opened their season with a wild weekend, as Yale fell to Richmond (9–8, 2–1 Atlantic 10) 30–2 in its first contest of the year before splitting a two-game set with Davidson (12–6, 2–1 Atlantic 10), defeating the Wildcats 22–3 and then dropping the second game 23–2.
“The final score doesn’t tell the story of the Richmond game,” pitcher Chris Lanham ’16 said. “It being our first time on a field this year, we definitely had some kinks to work out, but I still believe we were only a few pitches away from possibly winning the game. After the game we tried to build on the things we did well and correct the things that could have been better, and I think that approach has helped us since that point.”
Yale’s opener against the Spiders was close until the fifth inning, when Richmond scored 10 runs to open an 11–0 lead, largely thanks to six walks, a hit-by-pitch and a three-run home run. In the seventh inning, Richmond added 12 more runs off nine hits, including three homers, and seven runs in the eighth for the most runs Yale has allowed since a 34–18 loss to Central Connecticut State on April 30, 1997.
But later that day, the Elis put up 22 runs against Davidson, in large part because of a 14-run outburst in the sixth inning when Yale batted around twice.
The Bulldogs ran into another tough opponent in Duke (18–6, 4–5 Atlantic Coast), posting another double-digit margin loss 13–3, but were quick to bounce back. Yale rattled off three straight victories, capturing wins against George Mason (8–11, 1–2 Patriot), Towson (2–18, 0–3 Colonial Athletic) and Rhode Island (5–8, 0–0 Atlantic 10).
A 4–0 shutout loss to the Rams in the second game of a doubleheader ended the squad’s early winning streak, but the Elis finished their spring break on a high note, with wins against Hartford (7–9, 3–1 America East) and UMass Lowell (3–9, 0–0 America East). In both the 23–8 dismantling of Hartford and the one-run victory over the Hawks, weather was a major factor, with cold and winds affecting the team’s ability to play well.
“The weather definitely is a factor that plays into the games’ result[s],” pitcher Chasen Ford ’17 said. “However, it’s the team that lets it affect [it] the least that will end up playing better and most likely win … The weather is the same for both teams so the staff that fights harder through the cold will win.”
Lanham noted that his approach was to throw fastballs for strikes and force ground balls to minimize the effect of the wind. He credited the defense for coping well with the wind and making plays to help out the pitching staff.
In the last game before classes resumed, the Bulldogs had their first taste of extra inning baseball, using a two-run 10th inning to edge out the River Hawks 8–7. Pitcher Mason Kukowski ’18 picked up the win for Yale after allowing just one earned run over the last three innings. Kukowski has been one of the most impressive additions to the pitching staff thus far with a 1.80 earned run average, good for fourth in the Ivy League, over seven appearances.
“He has been an anchor for us, someone who we can give the ball to and know he will get the job done,” right fielder David Toups ’15 said. “He showed a lot of poise in the UMass Lowell game, and I know he will continue to get better as the season goes on.”
During the 10-game stretch, the Bulldogs showcased an impressive offense, averaging 8.4 runs per game on a 0.294 batting average. Leading the way for the Elis was first baseman Eric Hsieh ’15, who currently leads the nation with a 0.541 batting average, nearly 70 points higher than the next best hitter in college baseball with a minimum of three plate appearances per game.
As a whole, the Bulldogs currently lead the Ivy League in hitting and on-base percentage, at 0.396. Five players from the starting nine are hitting above 0.340 and appear within the top 15 players of the conference batting average leaderboard, while no other team in the Ancient Eight places more than two players in the top 15.
“I’ve never felt more comfortable with our offense in the four years that I’ve been here,” centerfielder Green Campbell ’15 said. “I think from top to bottom we have an extremely balanced offense with a solid mix of righties, lefties, speed guys and power hitters, and we all work off of each others’ varying strengths.”
Hsieh agreed, saying that there is no weak spot in the order and that every player has had chances to deliver in clutch situations this season.
Yale has yet to see a game played on its home turf this season as a result of weather-related field conditions.
The Elis will play two more road non-conference games this week against UConn and Quinnipiac before opening their Ivy League slate on the road against the teams of the Lou Gehrig division.
“I think we’re playing pretty well right now, but we still have a lot of work to do,” Hsieh said. “These next two games are going to be important for us to build some momentum going into the weekend, and we’re all excited for Ivy League games to start.”
Yale has not advanced to the Ivy League championship series since the 1995 season.