Playing from behind for just one inning over the course of Monday’s two-game affair, the Yale baseball team started fast and finished strong en route to a second consecutive season sweep of Columbia.
A combination of early run support and adept pitching from Alex Stiegler ’20 enabled a comfortable Yale (16–12, 7–1 Ivy) victory in Game 1 of the two-game set with the Lions (8–17, 4–4). In contrast, the latter half of the doubleheader saw Columbia grab the contest’s first run in the top of the fifth inning, but the Elis responded with the game-winning run in the bottom of the eighth. Following a sweep of Penn a day earlier, the Elis’ four-win weekend elevates them to first place in the Red Rolfe Division and places Yale in the driver’s seat to earn another Ivy League Championship Series berth.
“I think our success as a team can be credited to the depth and versatility of our roster,” Stiegler said. “We have infielders playing well in the outfield and outfielders picking balls in the infield. When one guy goes down the next guy steps in and always seems to get the job done.”
After Sunday’s thrilling come-from-behind victory over the Quakers, the Bulldogs wasted no time in jumping to an early lead against the Lions. Captain and third baseman Richard Slenker ’17 ripped a frozen rope down the left-field line for a run-scoring double in the top of the first inning, and the Elis added three more runs in the home half of the third including a two-run bomb off the bat of Benny Wanger ’19.
That was all the run support Stiegler needed as he delivered a serviceable effort for his second collegiate victory on the hill. The right-hander scattered six hits and two earned runs across 5.1 innings while obliterating his career-best strikeout total with seven punchouts. Now 2–0 in two Ivy League starts, Stiegler has provided the Yale rotation with a No. 3 starter capable of shutting down opposing lineups.
“My performance on the hill can really be credited to our defense,” Stiegler said. “I trust them to make plays behind me and that gives me confidence to throw what I want, when I want. The staff has benefited from a desire to earn a spot as a go-to guy. The competition within ourselves has pushed everyone to get better and fight for a spot.”
Although Columbia narrowed the lead to three with a run-scoring double from second baseman Randell Kanemaru in the top of the fifth, southpaw Kumar Nambiar ’19 tossed 1.2 innings of hitless relief to earn his first save of the season. The bullpen was a particular point of strength for Yale throughout the weekend: In 12.2 innings pitched, the Eli relievers surrendered just five hits and one earned run.
Following four relatively uneventful, scoreless innings to open Game 2, Columbia struck first in the top of the fifth inning with an RBI single off of starter Eric Brodkowitz ’18. The Lions’ only lead of the series was short-lived, however, as Yale immediately answered with four of its own in the home half of the sixth inning. First baseman Alec Hoeschel ’17 scored the first run for the Bulldogs with a bases-loaded groundout, and a wild pitch followed by consecutive singles by shortstop Dai Dai Otaka ’20 and centerfielder Tim DeGraw ’19 brought in three more runs.
The Lions scraped across three runs in the seventh and eighth innings before Wanger took the opportunity to play hero for the second consecutive day. The sophomore relied on fundamental baseball to put Yale ahead in the bottom of the eighth, although in less aesthetically pleasing fashion than his walk-off double against the Quakers on Sunday. With runners on second and third, the designated hitter lofted a sacrifice fly to right field deep enough to score Otaka for the game’s winning run.
Wanger’s 18 RBIs place him third best in the Yale lineup and ninth best in the Ivy League despite having competed in just 13 games this season.
“I talk to [assistant] coach [Craig] Driver before every at-bat,” Wanger said. “He is a real calming presence on our bench and helps me relax and focus on an approach at the plate. There is still room for improvement.”
With the Bulldogs nearing the halfway point of the conference season boasting a league-best 7–1 record, the team’s pitching staff has evolved from an apparent weakness into one of its strengths. Yale’s ERA of 2.67 in conference play now ranks first in the Ivy League, and the Bulldogs have not surrendered more than six runs over the course of their current six-game Ancient Eight win streak.
“My mentality for every appearance, especially as a relief pitcher, is to come in and pick up my teammates,” Griffin Dey ’19 said. “Our play thus far has given every member of the team a sense of confidence I’ve never seen before. We are in a great spot, but moving forward we need to keep building off our energy and focus on playing loose.”
Yale holds a two-game lead in the Red Rolfe Division over second-place Dartmouth.