Courtesy of Yale Athletics

The Yale softball team came home empty-handed two weekends ago from a tournament that featured two of the best squads in Division I softball.

At the Tiger Invitational hosted by 2016 Women’s College World Series runner-up Auburn (19–2, 0–0 Southeastern), the Bulldogs (0–4, 0–0 Ivy) squared off against No. 2 Auburn, No. 12 James Madison (16–3, 0–0 Colonial), University of Massachusetts, Lowell (3–5, 0–0 America East) and North Dakota (9–11, 0–0 Big Sky). The Elis opened against JMU and Auburn but ultimately fell 8–3 and 9–0, respectively. However, their tournament ended on a low note after an extra-inning walk-off home run lifted UMass Lowell over Yale 4–3 and a flat performance against North Dakota led to a 2–1 loss that capped the winless weekend.

“Going into those two games [against JMU and Auburn], it’s a different atmosphere against teams of that caliber,” pitcher Francesca Casalino ’18 said. “There’s almost a reverence … We exposed a lot of [JMU’s] weaknesses, and to compete with a team of that caliber was a really cool experience … As for the Auburn game, speaking for myself, I was really nervous. I didn’t know what to expect against those hitters.”

In its first game of the season, Yale came out of the gate with a solid but unsuccessful performance against the Dukes. The Elis opened the scoring in the bottom of the first off of an RBI single from pitcher Terra Jerpbak ’19. Yale gave up one run in the next frame, but the score stood tied after two innings. However, a brutal third inning saw the five Dukes cross the plate to give JMU a 6–1 advantage. The Bulldogs found their bearings thereafter, holding their opponents to just two more runs, but JMU pitcher Odicci Alexander kept the Eli bats quiet and the Dukes left with a comfortable 8–3 win.

The next morning, the Elis went toe-to-toe with the cream of the softball crop: Auburn. The Tigers, who came one run short of a national title last June, entered the matchup with only two losses on their record and just one earned run in their previous five games. In front of a sea of adoring Auburn fans, the Yale players experienced an environment they are unlikely to see again this year.

Again, the Bulldogs started with an impressive defensive performance, holding the explosive Tigers to just one run in the first two innings. However, Yale’s bats were once again held in check, as Auburn pitchers Makayla Martin and Ashlee Swindle combined for a five-inning no-hitter. After notching six runs in the third and two more in the fourth, the nine-run Auburn advantage was enough to trigger the NCAA’s mercy rule and conclude the game.

“Going into the tournament, we obviously knew it would be tough competition,” outfielder Sydney Glover ’17 said. “I think we wanted to not worry too much about who [JMU and Auburn] were and what we knew they could do. …We played really well as a team. We took advantage of their mistakes, so we actually felt really good after that JMU game. Against Auburn … I think we did the best that we could.”

Despite putting their ranked competition behind them, the Bulldogs were unable to secure a win on the weekend in a pair of heartbreakers against UMass Lowell and North Dakota. Still, after surrendering a combined 17 runs in two games to the Duke and Tigers, Yale responded with a stingier outing against the River Hawks.

The Bulldogs took a 3–2 lead after second baseman Laina Do ’17 hit a single to bring in pinch-runner Lindsay Kuss ’20 in the top of the eighth inning. However, UMass Lowell conjured up a last-inning comeback, as infielder Sydney Barker smashed a walk-off two-run homer in the bottom of the frame.

While Jerpbak, the starting pitcher, threw seven solid innings, the Bulldogs’ offense was almost nonexistent. Yale struggled all game long trying to time the pitches from the River Hawks’ Lauren Ramirez, who threw a complete game while allowing just six hits in eight innings.

The Elis’ final game in the Invitational went much like the other three games before, as the team fell to the Fighting Hawks in a low-scoring pitching duel between Kaylin Van Domelen and her Bulldog counterparts, Lindsay Efflandt ’17 and Casalino. Van Domelen was able to get her team out of tight situations throughout the game, including a bases-loaded jam in the fifth inning in which she struck out third baseman Allison Skinner ’18.

Despite putting six runners in scoring position, Yale’s batting order still struggled to capitalize on its opportunities. The Elis managed just four hits the entire game while walking just twice against Van Domelen; on the other hand, North Dakota recorded just three hits, but took advantage of runners in scoring position with back-to-back doubles in the bottom of the third inning.

The one positive for the Bulldogs after the weekend-ending loss to the Fighting Hawks was their pitching core and defense. Efflandt pitched a solid two innings in her first start of the season, while Casalino dominated the late stages with 3.1 scoreless innings of relief.

“Since it was our first weekend playing games, we were still trying to find the right combo to get the job done [offensively] and be successful,” Do said. “This year we have a lot of depth on the team and I believe it is going to be a great season for us.”

The Bulldogs will look to improve their offensive game while remaining consistent on the defensive side against Indiana State on March 10 in the University of South Florida Tournament in Clearwater, Florida.