Monday’s doubleheader flipped the script of the 2016 Ivy League Baseball Championship Series. Yale, rather than Princeton, outbattled a self-destructive opponent and put an exclamation point on a successful week of Ancient Eight play.
In what was a much closer game than the score indicated, the Bulldogs (12–11, 3–1 Ivy) utilized timely hitting and a magnificent complete-game effort from pitcher Alex Stiegler ’20 to defeat the Tigers (6–16, 2–2) by a score of 8–0 in Monday’s first tilt. In the latter half, pitcher Eric Brodkowitz ’18 bested the Tigers’ Ben Gross, also going the distance to win a 3–1 pitcher’s duel. Surrendering just one run in two games, the Yale staff showed its capability against the defending conference champions.
“We played great as a team,” captain and third baseman Richard Slenker ’17 said. “Stiegler and Brodkowitz really stepped up and gave us what we needed and put us in great position to win the games. We had some timely hitting and great baserunning to capitalize on some Princeton errors.”
Yale pushed across runs in both the first and second innings of Game 1 to jump out to an early lead. Standout centerfielder Tim Degraw ’19 smacked a single to left field to lead off the game and later stole second before scoring on a Tiger error. An additional Princeton mishap in the following inning loaded the bases for the Elis, and pitcher James Proctor walked Degraw to bring home a run.
Two early runs were all the support Stiegler needed. The freshman ambushed the plate with strikes, scattering only three hits across a seven-inning complete-game performance for his first collegiate victory. Striking out only two Tiger hitters, the righthander effectively pitched to contact, inducing 12 ground-ball outs one of which led to the game-ending double play.
“Today my fastball was just about all I needed,” Stiegler said. “It was moving very well which set up the occasional breaking ball that would catch the hitters off guard. Being a freshman facing the team that beat us last year, I knew the older guys would come out with a chip on their shoulder, so I might as well have one too.”
To complement Stiegler’s shutout, Yale tallied six runs in the fourth inning against a flimsy Tiger defense. Back-to-back Princeton errors and a wild pitch put catcher Andrew Herrera ’17 and shortstop Dai Dai Otaka ’20 in scoring position. Otaka scored on an ensuing fielder’s choice off of the bat of Degraw. Designated hitter Benny Wanger ’19 followed up with a two-run double and later scored on a single from right fielder Harrison White ’17. All six runs were unearned and cemented Princeton’s fate in the lopsided defeat.
Though both teams recorded more hits in the second contest, Game 2 was a much closer, lower-scoring affair. Yale was able to strike first in the top half of the third with back-to-back doubles from Slenker and Wanger in the middle of the lineup. The Tigers answered with a run-scoring double in the bottom half of the frame to tie the score at one, but the home side’s scoring ended there.
The Elis plated another unearned run on a Herrera double in the fourth inning and pushed across an insurance run in the seventh on Otaka’s 13th run batted in of the season. After surrendering the early Princeton run, Brodkowitz was rock solid in the late stages of the game. The junior pitched around two walks and several Princeton baserunners while tying a season-high eight strikeouts. Now 2–1 on the season, Brodkowitz looks to be back to pre-surgery form after missing every 2016 game but the Ivy League Championship’s series finale.
“The real key for me is always getting ahead of hitters by throwing quality first pitches,” Brodkowitz said. “Throwing a lot of strikes plays really well to our strong defense.”
While Yale’s second-best earned run average inspires optimism through four games, the Bulldogs currently rank towards the bottom half of the Ivy League in both batting average and on-base percentage. Though Yale has averaged 5.5 runs per game, the second-best mark in the Ivy League, the majority of the runs scored against the Tigers resulted from sloppy fielding on the part of Princeton.
Nevertheless, a 3–1 conference mark puts Yale in second place in the Red Rolfe Division, primed to challenge undefeated Dartmouth for the division title.
“To win the weekend for us is huge,” Brodkowitz said. “A lot of it has to be attributed to our preparation … Because of that, we’re in a great position to accomplish what we want this season.”
Yale returns to action on Wednesday as it travels to Fairfield for a single nine-inning game at 3 p.m.