The Yale baseball team put in 13 games of work over spring break, recording six wins in preparation for upcoming Ivy League play.
A road trip to Virginia and South Carolina was highlighted by two nail-biting tilts with No. 7 Clemson, in which the Bulldogs (8–10, 0–0 Ivy) twice held late-inning leads before falling 10–6 and 10–8. Yale put up impressive offensive score lines throughout the break, representing a tremendous improvement from last year, and plated seven or more runs on seven separate occasions compared to four runs in the same span last year. However, the team was inconsistent in establishing baserunners and hit just 0.260 over the break, ranking slightly below average in NCAA Division I.
“We got used to playing again and started to get back into the rhythm of the game,” captain and third baseman Richard Slenker ’17 said. “We are really hitting the baseball and starting to hit at clutch times. Our approach at the plate has definitely improved and will continue to improve the further into the season we get.”
Poor plate discipline hampered the Elis in their 2017 nonconference competition. Through 18 games, Yale batters have struck out 160 times and drawn just 51 walks, with Slenker the only Eli to earn more than seven free passes.
The lower number of baserunners has made the Bulldogs more reliant on home-run power, a significant strength for the team thus far. Yale blasted 11 dingers in 13 games over break, bringing its season total to 16, just two fewer longballs than it swatted all of last season. Designated hitter Griffin Dey ’19 has contributed six of the team’s round-trippers and has matured into a powerful force in the middle of the Yale lineup.
“We have a new coach this year, coach Craig Driver, [who] throws some of the best batting practice in the business,” center fielder Tim DeGraw ’19 said. “There is no better warmup than Coach Driver’s batting practice pitches. He has been vital in the team’s offensive production and his contribution shouldn’t go without credit.”
Heading into league play next weekend, the Bulldogs’ batting average sits seven points higher than last year’s final clip, while the team slugging percentage has jumped 43 points. A continued power surge will enhance the Elis’ offensive output, especially if the team can put more runners on base.
The pitching staff did not enjoy the same level of success as the lineup over break. Opponents hit a cumulative 0.302 against the Eli staff, but inconsistency was the name of the game, as a number of Bulldog pitchers spun gems over break.
Righthander Eric Brodkowitz ’18 hurled seven two-run innings against Wofford before earning a win against Holy Cross and allowing just two earned runs in 6.1 frames of work. Ace Scott Politz ’19 tossed a complete-game, seven-inning four-hitter against the Crusaders, allowing just a sole unearned run, and Mason Kukowski ’18 spun a two-hit, eight-inning masterpiece to defeat the same opponent.
“When [the pitching staff] can fill up the strike zone, we can dominate,” Kukowski said. “I went into the game with confidence and knew my stuff was too good for them to hit. My fastball was moving too much for them to hit and I took advantage of it.”
The Elis allowed double-digit runs on four occasions over break, but stayed competitive for the vast majority of their games.
St. Joseph’s 3/11 13–9 Win
In a game muddled by errors, the Elis escaped with a 13–9 victory against the Hawks. Though the Bulldogs were outhit by their counterparts, fielding proved to be the deciding factor in the game — only six of Yale’s 13 runs were earned. St. Joseph’s grabbed an early lead in the second inning with a two-run blast off of starter Eric Brodkowitz ’18, but the Elis responded with four runs in the sixth off of a combination of timely singles from DeGraw and shortstop Dai Dai Otaka ’20 and control problems from the Hawks’ hurlers. A three-run triple from DeGraw in the bottom of the eighth sealed the victory for the Bulldogs.
Clemson 3/15 10–8 Loss
In the concluding game of Yale’s two-game series with Clemson, the Bulldogs came close to a win over the No. 7 Tigers for the second-straight day. Kukowski delivered a quality pitching performance, scattering seven hits and only three earned runs across 5.2 innings against one of the nation’s most prolific lineups. Backed by Kukowski, the Elis jumped to a 5–0 lead in the top of the fourth in unconventional fashion. Despite having just two hits in the inning, Yale scored three runs on free passes and one on a catcher’s interference call. After Clemson pulled ahead, Yale again seized the lead in the eighth with clutch doubles from catcher Andrew Herrera ’17 and DeGraw, but the Bulldog bullpen was unable to hold on and surrendered four runs in the bottom half of the inning.
Wofford 3/19 17–8 Win
Yale showcased its offensive talents in the series finale against the Terriers, unleashing an avalanche of hits en route to an 17–8 thumping. Right fielder Alex Boos ’18 began the scoring with a two-run base hit in the top of the first, and the hits and runs kept coming. DeGraw went 4–4 from leadoff spot, including an RBI triple, and Slenker and Dey each contributed three hits to the Elis’ total of 17. Politz surrendered six eighth-inning runs after blanking the Terriers for the first seven to pick up his third win of the season.
Holy Cross 3/26 8–7 Loss
In the latter half of Sunday’s doubleheader, the final game of the series with Holy Cross, Yale fell just short of a series sweep with an 8–7 loss. The Eli bats came alive again as the Bulldogs got off to a torrid start. RBI singles from designated hitter Benny Wanger ’19 and third baseman Brian Ronai ’20 put Yale up 5–1 through three innings, but Holy Cross chipped away at the lead. A three-run bomb in the bottom of the eighth off of southpaw Kumar Nambiar ’19 put the Crusaders ahead, and the Elis were unable to convert a Simon Whiteman ’19 steal of second into a run in the top of the ninth, spoiling their bid at a four-game sweep to end the break.