A season after tying for the worst record in the Ivy League’s Red Rolfe Division, the Yale baseball team finds itself sitting atop the standings four games into conference play. But to stay there, the Bulldogs will have to meet the challenge being brought to Yale Field by a pair of Lou Gehrig Division opponents that have yet to lose an Ivy League game in 2016.
Yale (7–18–1, 2–2 Ivy) faces Princeton (11–11, 4–0) and Cornell (8–9, 2–0) in a set of doubleheaders this weekend, with the Elis playing two against the Tigers on Friday before a Sunday twin bill against the Big Red.
On Wednesday, the Bulldogs split another doubleheader against Fairfield, dropping the first game 2–1 before taking the second game by the same score. After allowing an average of 8.5 runs per game in its Ivy-opening weekend, Yale’s pitching allowed just five total hits to the Stags over the midweek matchups.
“I think the win [was] important to gather momentum and good vibes for the weekend,” third baseman Richard Slenker ’17 said.
And the Bulldogs can certainly use that momentum heading into the contests with Princeton, as the Tigers come to New Haven having won five of six and look to continue a remarkable turnaround from their 2015 campaign.
A year ago, Princeton went just 7–32 and ranked among the Ivy League’s bottom three in batting average, earned run average and fielding percentage. But this year, the Tigers have been riding their conference-best 3.72 ERA — a world away from Yale’s Ivy-worst 6.76 — to the Ancient Eight’s top in-conference and overall records.
In its first league weekend, Princeton swept Dartmouth and Harvard in New Jersey by a combined score of 29–15 across four contests. It was something of an offensive outburst for the Tigers, who, with a league-worst 0.233 batting average, have yet to see sustained success at the plate to match their performance on the mound.
Right-handed pitchers Scott Politz ’19 and Chasen Ford ’17 will draw the starts for the Friday doubleheader, which was originally scheduled for Saturday but moved up a day, as weather forecasts show rain headed for the New Haven area on Saturday.
Although the Bulldogs are avoiding the forecasted inclement weather on Saturday, both Friday and Sunday project to be in the mid-40s — certainly not ideal baseball weather, but nothing the team has not faced.
“The conditions were pretty tough for hitters [on Wednesday] because it was cold and windy, but it very well could be just like that this weekend, so we should be well prepared,” outfielder Harrison White ’17 said.
Cornell, meanwhile, was up and down during the nonconference portion of its schedule, at one point winning five in a six-game stretch before dropping five straight in late March. But the team responded when it entered Ivy League play last weekend, taking both games of its doubleheader against the Crimson before two Sunday matchups with Dartmouth were postponed to later this month.
The wins over Harvard were not without some drama, as the Big Red had to rally late in both games to secure the sweep. Reaching base in both Big Red outbursts was Cornell infielder Tommy Wagner, whose team-leading 0.431 on-base percentage ranks fourth in the conference.
Unlike Princeton, Cornell has no standout unit; both its hitting and pitching rank near the middle of the Ivy League.
Yale righty Mason Kukowski ’18 will take the hill in Sunday’s first game against that Big Red offense, and the starter for game two was unannounced as of Thursday night. Left-hander Kumar Nambiar ’19 was Yale’s fourth starter in last weekend’s Ivy League contests, but Penn knocked the freshman southpaw around for seven earned runs and four homers over 2.1 innings of work.
“The boys have had another good week of practice and midweek games and we are all ready for another challenging weekend,” said Politz, who was saddled with a 3–2 loss in a strong complete-game effort against Penn last weekend. “Now that I’ve gotten my first conference start out of the way, I’m ready to go get my first conference win with the help of a solid defense and aggressive offense that can outhit any team in the Ivy League.”
Politz and the rest of the Elis will take the field at 2 p.m. on Friday, with Sunday’s first pitch scheduled for noon.
Jacob Mitchell contributed reporting.