Holding a two-game lead atop the Ivy League’s Red Rolfe Division over Harvard and Dartmouth, the Yale baseball team faces last-place Brown this weekend with a chance to clinch the divisional title for the first time since 1995.
A date more relevant to this year’s Bulldogs, however, may be 2014. Two years ago, Yale entered its season-ending series with Brown in the exact same situation — holding a two-game lead with four games remaining — but went 1–3 against the Bears, allowing Dartmouth to tie the Bulldogs in the standings and ultimately win the Red Rolfe Division in a tiebreaker game. On Friday and Saturday, Yale (16–23–1, 10–6 Ivy) plays a home-and-home series with Brown (12–23, 6–10) looking to avoid repeating history.
“We are just trying to take it one inning at a time and not get too caught up thinking about just how important these games are,” catcher Andrew Herrera ’17 said. “We are in the driver’s seat and feeling confident as a team, so as long as we can continue to play our game we feel good things will happen.”
The series will begin with a doubleheader at Brown on Friday before both teams head to New Haven for two games at Yale Field on Saturday. Two wins over the course of four games would guarantee at least a tiebreaker game with either Harvard or Dartmouth, and three wins would secure the Red Rolfe title outright.
The winner of the Red Rolfe division — which contains Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth and Brown — will advance to face the winner of the Lou Gehrig Division — which is comprised of Princeton, Penn, Columbia and Cornell — in a three-game Ivy League Championship series. The winner will represent the Ivy League at the 2015 NCAA Baseball Tournament.
“We have faced adversity all year and, regardless of the situation, we have committed to staying positive, supporting each other and working hard,” left fielder Brent Lawson ’16 said. “We will continue controlling what we can control and let the chips fall where they may.”
Despite the Bulldogs’ four-game lead over the Bears in the conference standings, the two teams are more evenly matched in other statistics. Brown holds a slight advantage in conference batting average, 0.269 to 0.268, while Yale has a marginal edge in conference ERA, 5.70 to 5.75.
On offense, the Bears are led by catcher Josh Huntley, who has a 0.383 batting average in Ivy League play. He has 12 doubles and 16 RBIs this season, while outfielder Sam Grigo is hitting 0.281 with a team-high 21 RBIs.
In the first game, the Elis will likely face right-hander Christian Taugner, who is 5–2 this season with an Ivy League-leading 2.17 ERA in 54 innings pitched. He forms a solid duo with left-handed starter Austin French, who is 3–4 with a 4.07 ERA.
French, who is second in the conference with 56 strikeouts, pitched in the Bears’ 6–0 triumph over Harvard last Sunday, throwing a complete game, seven-inning shutout with 11 strikeouts. French was named the Ivy League Pitcher of the Week for his efforts.
The Bears lost their other three contests to Harvard last weekend, and all three losing pitchers — Taugner as well as righties Reid Anderson and Max Ritchie — will return to the mound to start against the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs enter Friday with more momentum, having notched three victories in the four-game set at Dartmouth last weekend. Right-handers Scott Politz ’19 and Chasen Ford ’17 both secured victories over the Big Green on Saturday, continuing their impressive seasons. Politz leads the Bulldogs with a 3.90 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 55.1 innings pitched, while Ford has a 4.05 ERA over 53.1 innings. Against the Big Green, Ford allowed just two earned runs on seven hits over seven innings.
Righty Mason Kukowski ’18 closed out all three of the Eli victories over Dartmouth, maintaining two one-run leads for the Bulldogs and one two-run lead. He did not allow a base runner over each of his three appearances, and the saves moved Kukowski into second place in saves in the Ivy League with four.
The starters on Sunday against Brown are projected to be right-handers Benny Wanger ’19 and Drew Scott ’18. The first game on Sunday will mark just the second conference appearance for Wanger, who pitched 6.2 innings and earned a win last weekend against Dartmouth.
Third baseman Richard Slenker ’17 leads the Bulldogs with a 0.310 batting average this spring, while designated hitter Harrison White ’17 is hitting 0.295 with 19 RBIs and a 0.473 slugging percentage in the middle of the order with Slenker. Meanwhile, centerfielder Tim DeGraw ’19 paces the Bulldogs overall with 22 walks and 22 RBIs, and he is hitting a team-high 0.370 in Ivy League play.
The first game of the doubleheader on Friday at Brown is scheduled for 1 p.m., and Saturday’s twin bill in Connecticut will begin at the same time.