After enduring both a 20-year division title drought and incessant rain that caused a three-hour delay, the Yale baseball team ended its waiting in dramatic fashion on Saturday afternoon.
In a nail biting Red Rolfe Division tiebreaker game at Yale Field that featured 18 combined hits and three lead changes, the Bulldogs (18–26–1, 11–9 Ivy) came back to win 5–4 over Dartmouth (18–25, 11–9) and move on to the Ivy League Championship Series for the first time since 1995. Yale heads to Princeton this coming Saturday to begin the three-game series, holding a chance to end an even longer drought — 21 years — without an Ivy League title.
“We all went into the game today knowing that we were going to fight Dartmouth tooth and nail until the last pitch was thrown, and that’s exactly what we did,” designated hitter Harrison White ’17 said. “I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of this team right now.”
The one-game tiebreaker was slated for Saturday when Dartmouth went 3–1 against Harvard last week, erasing the two-game division lead that Yale, which went 1–3 against Brown, had held entering the regular season’s final weekend. Though the Elis won three out of four games in their trip to Hanover, New Hampshire last month, Dartmouth represented formidable competition, as both the eight-time defending division champion and the team that defeated Yale 11–4 in a 2014 tiebreaker game.
This year’s playoff featured a top-tier pitching matchup between two former high school rivals. Yale right-hander Scott Politz ’19 made the 12th start of an impressive freshman campaign — the Austin, Texas native entered Saturday as the winningest pitcher in the Ancient Eight — while senior flamethrower Duncan Robinson, another Texan, represented the Big Green on the mound as the reigning Ivy League Pitcher of the Year.
Dartmouth opened the scoring in the top of the second inning with back-to-back singles, a sacrifice bunt and a high sacrifice fly to right field. Politz forced a fly out to get out of that inning, but the Big Green was back for more in the fourth, when a leadoff home run by right fielder Kyle Holbrook put Dartmouth ahead 2–0 — the largest lead of the game for either team.
But just after Politz retired the next three batters in order, Yale began to make its mark at the plate in the bottom of the frame. Third baseman Richard Slenker ’17, making his first plate appearance after a fastball from Robinson hit him in the face in the bottom of the first inning, launched a 2–1 offering over the left field fence for his third homer of the season. Later in the inning, first baseman Alec Hoeschel ’17 singled to center field to plate White, who singled and advanced to second on an error.
Slenker finished a perfect 3–3 on the afternoon, driving in a pair of runs while scoring twice himself — all following a scary scene at home plate that had fans wondering if the junior would be able to return after being hit.
With their teams trading runs in the middle innings to make the score 3–3, the two Texan hurlers continued their showdown on the mound into the late stages of the game. After Politz sat down three consecutive Big Green batters in the top of the seventh, Robinson responded by striking out the side in the bottom of the inning. Politz and Robinson finished the day throwing 118 and 115 pitches, respectively, with a combined 73 percent of those finding the strike zone.
On the heels of a solo home run by Dartmouth designated hitter Joe Purritano in the top of the eighth inning, the Big Green took a 4–3 advantage into the bottom of frame to face the heart of the Yale batting order. With one out beginning the proceedings, Slenker poked his third hit of the day through the infield before White doubled to left-center field, placing both runners in scoring position.
Following his teammates’ lead, left fielder Brent Lawson put another ball in play against Robinson, reaching first on an infield ground ball as Dartmouth first baseman Michael Ketchmark fired a throw home in an attempt to stop Slenker breaking for the plate. A cheer erupted from the Yale Field bleachers as Gauthier could not corral the ball, allowing Slenker to tie the game at four apiece.
Yale center fielder Tim DeGraw ’19 put the Bulldogs ahead for good, legging out an infield base hit to drive in White and propelling the Elis to a 5–4 lead. Dartmouth shortstop Thomas Roulis fielded the slow chopper cleanly, but had no play after seeing White speed down the line to score the go-ahead run.
Just three outs away from the win, right-hander Chasen Ford ’17 took the mound in the top of the ninth for his second inning of work. After coming in midway through the eighth and standing two Big Green runners walked by lefty Kumar Nambiar ’19 earlier in the inning, the Lake Forest, California native worked himself into his own jam in the top of the ninth, allowing the potential tying and go-ahead runs to reach second and third. After Purritano flied out for the second out of the inning, Ketchmark, Dartmouth’s team home run leader, stepped up to the plate with two outs, two runners in scoring position and an opportunity to give Dartmouth its third lead of the game.
But the drama of the afternoon, along with Dartmouth’s title hopes, would end there. Ford induced a flyout to Nate Adams ’16 in right field to end the game, and the Bulldogs stormed the field to the sound of cheers and applause from the Yale faithful.
Nate Adams ’16 and Simon Whiteman ’19 run to the celebration after Adams’ catch. (Courtesy of Yale Athletics)
Ford earned the win, his fourth of the Ivy League season, despite pitching just 1.2 innings of shutout work. He will attempt to secure one more next weekend at Princeton, while Yale as a team will seek two with its best chance to secure an automatic NCAA tournament bid in over 20 years.
“We are playing good baseball right now. Our hitters are coming through in clutch situations, our pitchers are making it tough for other teams to score runs, and our defense has been pretty solid,” White said. “In the days to come we will focus on the fundamentals and head to Princeton next weekend well-prepared.”
Yale and Princeton will play a doubleheader in New Jersey on Saturday, beginning at 1 p.m. If a third game is necessary, that contest will take place at 12 p.m. on Sunday.