Last weekend at Yale Field, the Yale baseball team defeated Dartmouth for the Red Rolfe division title with a dash of late-game heroics at the plate. The Bulldogs moved a step closer toward an Ivy League championship in similarly dramatic fashion against Princeton on Saturday.
Yale (19–26–1, 11–9 Ivy) squared off against the Tigers (22–19, 13–7) at Clarke Field in New Jersey for the first game in the best-of-three series to determine the Ivy League champion and the conference’s NCAA tournament representative. The Bulldogs, who entered the weekend having defeated Princeton in each of their last seven matchups, pounced on the Tigers early in the game and survived a late comeback to secure an 8–7 victory.
With the win, the Elis find themselves just one victory away from clinching their first conference title since 1994.
“We approach each game against [Princeton] like we have approached games all year — with lots of focus, energy and desperation,” captain Chris Moates ’16 said. “Today was one of our most complete team efforts yet.”
The Bulldogs opened the scoring in the top of the second inning. Following the team’s first hit of the game, a single from left fielder Brent Lawson ’16, and a walk issued to center fielder Tim DeGraw ’19, catcher Andrew Herrera ’17 drove both teammates home with a single to center field.
Though Princeton roared right back with a pair of runs in the bottom of the frame, Yale struck again in the top of the third inning. After a two-RBI single by first baseman Alec Hoeschel ‘17 gave the Elis a 4–2 advantage, Herrera delivered again by singling in Hoeschel and Lawson to bolster the lead to four runs.
Herrera’s performance on Saturday was just his third multi-hit game of the season, and his team-leading four runs batted in were one shy of tying the New Jersey native’s career high.
“Herrera has come up with huge RBI hits in big spots all year long,” Moates said. “The guy is as tough of a competitor as I’ve seen, and thrives in pressure situations. He is an awesome leader to have behind the dish every pitch.”
Pitching dominated the middle innings of the game, with Yale right-handed starter Scott Politz ‘19 and Princeton reliever Luke Strieber combining to allow just seven runners to reach base in the fourth through seventh innings. Politz sent down 10 consecutive Princeton batters during those middle innings. The freshman hurler added another long day of work to his impressive freshman resume, firing seven innings and surrendering just three earned runs.
But with the score 6–5 in Yale’s favor, Princeton seized its first lead of the game in the bottom of the eighth inning. After recording two quick outs to start the frame, righty Chasen Ford ’17 — a starting pitcher throughout the regular season — walked three consecutive batters to load the bases. Righty closer Mason Kukowski ’18 relieved Ford in search of the inning’s final out, but had control problems of his own, issuing two bases-loaded walks to hand the Tigers a 7–6 lead before inducing a fly out to end the inning.
Facing a deficit for the first time all afternoon, the Bulldogs made one last push in the top of the ninth inning. With right fielder Nate Adams ’16 and second baseman Simon Whiteman ’19 both reaching base and stealing their way into scoring position, third baseman Richard Slenker ’17 poked his third hit of the game into right field, plating both runners and putting Yale ahead 8–7.
With a trio of singles and a walk on the day, Slenker has now reached base safely in all but one of his last nine plate appearances, a streak beginning in scary fashion when he was hit in the face with a pitch against Dartmouth last weekend.
“I’ve just stayed relaxed at the plate and not tried to do too much,” Slenker said.
The Bulldogs turned to right-hander Eric Brodkowitz ’18 in the bottom of the final inning to close out the victory. Though Brodkowitz himself celebrated his 20th birthday on Saturday, the sophomore gave the Elis the best present of all in his first appearance of the season.
A posterior labral tear and glenohumeral internal rotation deficit in his right shoulder, a condition that limits shoulder rotation, sidelined him from 2016 action prior to Saturday. Brodkowitz induced two weak groundouts and a lineout to earn the save and the Yale win.
“I was so pumped to be in that situation. I really was just trying to put the ball in a place that my defense could work with, and they did what they’ve been doing all year,” Brodkowitz said. “Letting my defense do the job was really all I had to do.”
Yale and Princeton will play at least one game tomorrow at Clarke Field, with the Bulldogs facing two potential opportunities to eliminate the Tigers and capture the Ivy League crown. First pitch will be at noon on Sunday, with a second game scheduled to start at 3:30 if necessary.