After opening the season with three tough contests against the nation’s No. 3 team and taking the field on Tuesday against an in-state foe that won 35 games last season, the Yale baseball team must continue to wait for its first win — or even its first close final score.
The Bulldogs (0–4, 0–0 Ivy) struggled to drive home base runners and waited too late to mount their comeback against Connecticut (6–4, 0–0 American). Yale scored two runs in the final inning, but it was not enough as the Elis fell 8–2 to the Huskies.
“We have probably faced two of the toughest teams we will see all year,” right-hander Mason Kukowski ’18 said. “Other than a bad inning here or there, we have done pretty well in all aspects of our game and hung with them. It has been humbling to play these teams, but at the same time we have a lot of confidence going forward that we can beat any team.”
The Bulldogs have faced tough competition in their first four games. Yale recently returned from a three-game series with Texas A&M, the No. 3 team in the country, while UConn finished last season with a 35–25 record and lost 4–2 to East Carolina in the semifinal round of the American Conference. The Huskies entered Tuesday’s matchup having already played three times as many contests this season as the Elis.
Kukowski started for Yale on the mound. After being named a Freshman All-American last season for his efforts as the team’s closer, both of Kukowski’s season appearances thus far have been as a starter. He opened the spring by allowing four earned runs on seven hits in five innings of work against the Aggies in the first game of the season.
Against UConn, the sophomore hurler tossed just two innings after surrendering four runs, though only one was earned.
“[Kukowski] is one of our best guys, and we have faith in him every time he takes the mound,” captain and right-hander Chris Moates ’16 said. “[Kukowski] had an awesome preseason, and has looked good in his first two starts, despite what his record says. I’m excited to see him back out on the mound on Sunday.”
The Huskies jumped out to an early 3–0 lead in the first inning thanks in part to a throwing error from shortstop Tom O’Neill ’16. After a walk and stolen base from UConn leadoff man and center fielder Jack Sundberg, third baseman Willy Yahn reached on the error, and both players were driven home on a double from designated hitter Tyler Gnesda.
Gnesda later scored on a single by shortstop Bryan Daniello, though all three runs were unearned. Gnesda went 2–4 in the game, driving in three base runners, while Yahn finished with three hits and one RBI.
UConn starter Andrew Zapata tossed six scoreless innings, striking out four batters and allowing just two hits.
In the ninth inning, with the Huskies holding an 8–0 lead, the Bulldogs finally managed to push runners across the plate, but the effort was too little and too late.
First baseman Alec Hoeschel ’17, who entered the game at the position for Benny Wagner ’19, began the inning by tripling down the right field line. Moates, who entered as a pinch hitter for left fielder Tom Ruddy ’18 grounded out to third base, but plating Hoeschel on the hit. The RBI groundout marked the fourth career RBI for Moates, who has recorded just 11 at bats for the Bulldogs in his career.
The Elis scored again later in the ninth when Fuller brought home third baseman Richard Slenker ’17 with an RBI sacrifice fly to center field.
Yale left two runners on base to close the game, as O’Neill struck out looking to end the contest. The Elis stranded seven base runners in the game.
“It’s always frustrating to leave guys stranded on base, but sometimes the hits just don’t fall,” Moates said. “We had guys take good swings and hit the ball hard in those situations all day long, just right at people. If we keep hitting the ball hard, the hits will come, and the runs will be right behind them.”
Right-handed relief pitcher Griffen Dey ’19 entered the game in the eighth inning and posted a flawless performance, pitching a scoreless inning and going 2–2 at the plate. He replaced designated hitter Harrison White ’17 in the batting order but right-hander Drew Scott ’18 on the mound.
Dey’s first single led off the eighth inning and resulted in the freshman being left stranded on second base, but his second single, in the ninth, pushed Slenker from second to third and set up Fuller’s sacrifice fly.
The Elis will play 15 contests over spring break, highlighted by the opening games next weekend at Navy against the Midshipmen, before traveling to Washington, D.C., to face Georgetown and George Washington.