Courtesy of Graham Harboe
Two years ago, the Yale baseball team found some magic in a Southeastern Conference ballpark, stunning the top-ranked Louisiana State Tigers 8–7 in the finale of the Bulldogs’ season-opening series. But this past weekend, with a similar opportunity in front of them — and with a distinguished alumnus looking on — the Elis could not find a way to beat No. 3 Texas A&M and its high-powered offense.
In its first action of the 2016 season, Yale (0–3, 0–0 Ivy) was swept 12–5, 13–0 and 10–2 by the Aggies (11–1, 0–0 SEC) at Olsen Field in a three-game series that was organized at the request of former Yale captain and U.S. President George H.W. Bush ’48. Texas A&M, which has qualified for the NCAA Baseball Tournament in each of the past nine seasons, especially teed off on the Elis’ relief pitching, which leaves College Station, Texas with a 22.34 ERA. Still, the weekend was not without some highlights for the visitors.
Perhaps at the top of that list, even above leading the nation’s No. 3 ranked team 2–1 in the bottom of the seventh Sunday, was a pre-game ceremony on Saturday honoring Bush in which each team took pictures with the former president and presented him with a framed jersey. Bush, who helped lead Yale to College World Series appearances in 1947 and 1948 as a first baseman, also threw out ceremonial first pitches to Eli catcher Andrew Herrera ’17 and Aggie pitcher Stephen Kolek.
“[Meeting Bush] was an honor and a privilege that nobody will ever forget,” third baseman Richard Slenker ’17 said. “It was one of those moments that I think all of us will look back on and be extremely thankful for.”
The opportunity was a rare one for any team, but Yale’s early-season struggles were nothing new. Coming into Friday, the Elis had fallen in each of their previous four opening-day contests by at least 10 runs, and for a time, the Aggies seemed poised to extend that streak to five.
Two first-inning Aggie runs, including a lead-off homer by J.B. Moss, put Texas A&M up early, and that lead would extend to 6–0 by the end of the sixth. Bulldog pitcher and Lone Star State native Mason Kukowski ’18, making just his second collegiate start, gave up four earned runs over five innings.
The Elis put a scare into the crowd of over 6,000 with a five-run top of the seventh, punctuated by a three-run blast off the bat of Herrera that brought the game within one. But a four-run, two-out rally in the bottom of the frame recreated some breathing room for the Aggies, who eventually put the game out of reach with two more in the eighth.
Following the next day’s pageantry, Texas A&M continued to pound Yale pitching. The Bulldogs were able to stay close for half the game with Bush in attendance, allowing just two runs in the first four innings. But in the fifth, the floodgates opened for A&M.
The first seven Aggie batters in the inning reached base, and by the time three Eli pitchers had combined to get all three outs, the home team was ahead 9–0. Yale failed to record another hit for the rest of the game, while the Aggies pushed across at least one more run in each of the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.
Sunday, on the other hand, saw perhaps the most complete Bulldog performance of the weekend. Right-hander Chasen Ford ’17 threw five-plus innings of one-run ball, a performance reminiscent of his first career start, when he gave up just two earned over 6.1 innings at LSU. And thanks to a second-inning RBI single by catcher Alex Boos ’18, a double steal that scored Slenker and some nifty sixth-inning escape work by southpaw Kumar Nambiar ’19, the Elis managed to take a 2–1 lead into the bottom of the seventh.
“[The] key is staying ahead,” Ford said of his performance. “They’re a team that can punish you when you consistently fall behind and have to come right after them with fastballs. Keeping the ball low against a long ball team is also pretty key.”
But after the first batter in that frame reached on a dropped third strike, Aggie second baseman Ryne Birk smacked a go-ahead home run off of Nambiar. Texas A&M would never look back, racking up seven more runs before the inning was over.
An inning and a half later, the Aggies wrapped up the sweep and moved to 9–0 at home. A&M outhit Yale 46–14 on the weekend, although the Bulldogs committed just one error to their opponents’ three.
With their first series of the year behind them, the Elis will return to the Northeast in search of their first victory. Next on the team’s slate is a trip to Storrs, Connecticut for a Tuesday matinee, during which Yale will face UConn in a midweek showdown.