A new season begins this weekend for the Yale baseball team, as the commencement of Ivy League play offers a much-welcomed fresh start for the Bulldogs.
Yale (4–15–1, 0–0 Ivy), which has struggled in nonconference play, begins its Ivy schedule with one of the toughest weekends in the 20-game campaign. At Columbia (5–13, 0–0), Yale will square off against the three-time defending conference champion, and at Penn (7–11, 0–0), the Elis will face a team that has posted either the best or second-best Ivy League record for the past two seasons.
“This upcoming weekend will be a reflection of the work we’ve put in thus far,” second baseman Simon Whiteman ’19 said. “That’s definitely something we’re very excited about.”
The Bulldogs, who did not secure their first victory until 11 games into the spring, won three out of four games before losing their three most recent contests.
Columbia has also gotten off to a slow start this spring, posting a losing record in a nonconference campaign that has included games against Pepperdine, San Diego and No. 16 Long Beach State.
The Lions dominated with their hitting in 2015, easily pacing the Ivy League with 7.35 runs per game in conference play. Yale was a main victim of that hitting last season, being outscored 25–5 in a pair of losses to Columbia.
This season, though little can be learned from Columbia’s relatively low 3.78 runs per game against nonconference teams, two players have emerged with particularly impressive statistics. Second baseman Will Savage leads the Lion offense, hitting 0.362, while left fielder Robb Paller has recorded a 0.313 average and 10 RBIs.
“The pitching staff is excited to face the challenge that is Columbia,” captain Chris Moates ’16 said. “Obviously, as defending champs, they are a strong team, but I’m very confident that our staff has what it takes to shut them down. If we throw strikes and limit the free bases we give them, we’ll be a tough team to beat.”
The pitching will also be crucial in Sunday’s doubleheader with Penn. Center fielder Gary Tesch leads the Ivy League with a 0.381 batting average, and the Quakers have outscored their opponents 99–74 through their first 18 games, despite holding just a 7–11 record.
Right-hander Scott Politz ’19, who will pitch the first game against the Quakers, may provide Yale’s best chance to garner a victory. The freshman has pitched the Bulldogs to two of their four victories, registering a 3.34 ERA over six outings and a team-high 26 strikeouts, which is good enough for fourth in the Ivy League.
“I plan to treat it like any other game and just focus on first-pitch strikes and getting the lead-off batter out each inning,” Politz said. “I know I have one of the best defenses behind me in the league, so I need to throw strikes and challenge the offense, and let our defense keep them off the base paths.”
Penn, which defeated Yale by scores of 8–1 and 17–5 last season, has also distinguished itself as a top Ivy League program in the past few seasons. In 2015, the Quakers’ 16–4 conference record tied for first in the Ivy League with Columbia and Dartmouth, last year’s Ivy League Championship Series contenders.
On their own offensive side, the Bulldogs have shown the capability to pressure other teams on the base paths. Yale has three players — Whiteman, centerfielder Tim DeGraw ’19 and third baseman Richard Slenker ’17 — among the Ivy League’s top five in stolen bases. Whiteman tops the list with 11 swiped bags this spring.
Whiteman and DeGraw, both projected starters, are part of a strong class of 2019 that will look to make a difference this Ivy League season. DeGraw leads the team with 13 RBIs, and first baseman Benny Wanger ’19, who has also served as designated hitter and pitcher, is second among Bulldogs with a 0.357 batting average in 42 plate appearances.
In total, four freshmen are among the top seven in at bats for the Elis, but they will step up to the plate against Ivy competition for the first time this weekend.
“I think we’re not trying to think too much about expectations heading into this weekend,” Whiteman said. “We’ve been tested by several good teams thus far and have really put the pieces together to some extent.”
First pitch for both doubleheaders is scheduled for 12 p.m.