Courtesy of Yale Athletics

Since the age of 10, Yale softball pitcher Lindsay Efflandt ’17 had her sights set on playing college softball. Over a decade later, Efflandt, now in her junior year at Yale, has not only realized that goal, but done so in remarkable fashion with one of the best conference seasons the Bulldogs have seen in recent history.

Four weekends into the Bulldogs’ five-week Ivy League season, the Cary-Grove, Illinois native has played a major role in Yale’s seven conference wins amid the most successful year of her college career. Efflandt leads the team both with her 3.16 overall earned run average and her 1.42 conference ERA — the second-best such mark in the Ivy League. Her performance against Ivy opponents of late has been even more stellar: Facing Harvard and Dartmouth over the past two weeks, the junior recorded a collective 1.16 ERA in 36.1 innings, including a complete game shutout last weekend against the Big Green, the highest-scoring offense in Ancient Eight play.

Efflandt credited her success to a change in focus she made this year. After two seasons of playing double duty for Yale as both a hitter and a full-time pitcher, the junior moved to the pitcher’s circle permanently in 2016. The move appears to have been fruitful for the Bulldogs (15–28–1, 7–9 Ivy), who have already surpassed their conference win total from the past four seasons.

“She’s come in quite a few really tight situations where we’ve needed a pitcher to come in and just shut things down, and that’s exactly what she’s done on multiple occasions,” catcher Camille Weisenbach ’17 said.

Perhaps the most notable performance of Efflandt’s season came against Dartmouth, a team that entered the weekend undefeated in the Ivy League and had swept Yale for three straight seasons before this year. In Efflandt’s three appearances in Hanover, New Hampshire, Efflandt strung together 14.2 innings and gave up just two earned runs.

Efflandt achieved those results with just three strikeouts on the weekend, and only one during her three-hit shutout on Sunday. She said that the low strikeout count has been a critical part of her performance this season, as her mechanical focus is on getting ground balls instead of punch-outs, the more traditional marker of a pitcher’s success.

“If you focus on striking out all of your opponents, it’s only a matter of time before they start hitting you hard,” Efflandt said “But if you’re keeping them off balance, they’re not hitting it hard, and you’re giving your defense the opportunity to get outs.”

Efflandt is particular about the mechanics even in warmups. Weisenbach noted that Efflandt always wants the catcher to stand up during warmups, rather than crouch.

Despite the untraditional nature of this quirk, Efflandt said it helps build her confidence on the mound. The position allows her to feel as if each pitch is going in a straight line, which helps her work on her fastball mechanics.

Technical pitching details aside, players also highlighted the intensity and resiliency with which Efflandt approaches the game as reasons for her success.

Exactly three years prior to Saturday’s games in Hanover, Efflandt suffered an injury on the mound. She took a line drive to the face, breaking three bones. After her recovery, Efflandt began wearing a mask in the pitcher’s circle in order to continue pitching. On the anniversary of her injury last weekend, Efflandt was hit with yet another line drive, this one to the ribs. Though the blow was not nearly as serious and did not keep her out of the game, Efflandt said it fueled her going into her Sunday afternoon start.

“Lindsay brings intensity to the team and really has been able to pull through during a variety of different circumstances this year,” captain and utility player Allie Souza ’16 said. “She is resilient and has the ability to set the tone for the team on the mound.”

Though certain of her intention to play college ball at a young age, Efflandt was less clear on where until her senior year. She noted that recruiters from Yale and other Ivy League schools reached out later in her high school career than other recruiters — some of whom were in communication with her as early as her freshman year of high school.

She said her interest in Yale was two-pronged. As a writer and an aspiring teacher, Efflandt saw in Yale opportunities not offered elsewhere, but she also noted that the familial, “close-knit” feel of the softball team as something that convinced her to become a Bulldog.

“I could tell that the girls in the program held themselves to the highest standards, not just as players but as competitors and student-athletes,” Efflandt, an English major, said. “It stood out when I was getting recruited. It is one of the defining traits of the program, and I know it will remain that way.”

In her third season, Efflandt said that this perception held true, and she credited the team for creating an environment in which she able to perform as she does.

She highlighted the team’s dignity and class on the field, especially when competing in tense conference matchups.

“Being respectful of our opponents is very important to us.” Efflandt said. “We aim to represent the Yale name with class.”

Teammates who have been able share in Efflandt’s ups and downs both this year and in the last two commented on her strong character. Utility player Maddie Wuelfing ’18 said Efflandt’s positive attitude has a big impact on the team.

Weisenbach also pointed to Efflandt’s openness, flexibility and ability to communicate as advantages. This is particularly important for Weisenbach, who makes up the second part of the Eli battery when Efflandt is in the pitcher’s circle.

Efflandt and Weisenbach, both juniors, will team up for the last times this season during six games this week. The Bulldogs team will play their final nonconference games this season on Wednesday against Maine before playing a four-game home-and-home series with Brown next weekend.