The Yale baseball team went head-to-head with No. 17 Virginia, national champions two seasons ago, and returned home with a decisive win and two nail-biting one-run losses, although the Bulldogs could have left Davenport Field with a trio of successes.
The Bulldogs (1–6, 0–0 Ivy) rallied from the Hokies’ (8–4, 0–0 ACC) walk-off, game-winning single in Saturday’s first contest to earn a seven-run victory in Game 2 behind two home runs from third baseman Griffin Dey ’19 and another long ball from first baseman Benny Wanger ’19. On Sunday, however, Virginia claimed the series victory powered by a six-run seventh inning to escape Charlottesville with a 7–6 triumph despite a late comeback effort from the Elis.
“It was definitely a big win for us to beat a nationally ranked team,” Wanger said. “It gives us some confidence moving forward as we now know that we can play with and beat every team.”
Following four straight losses to mid-major competition to open the 2018 campaign, the Bulldogs matched the sky-high expectations that awaited them after last year’s program-record win total and Ivy title against a talented Virginia team. The triumph over the Cavaliers marked Yale’s first win over a nationally ranked squad since beating No. 1 Louisiana State in 2013, but the team’s level of competitiveness throughout the weekend marked a large step forward as well, given that the Tigers mauled the Elis by a combined 22–0 in the other two games of that 2013 series.
Friday’s opening game was postponed due to forecasts of high winds in the Charlottesville area, transforming Saturday’s contest into a doubleheader showdown. In the first half of the twinbill, the Bulldogs jumped out to an early 2–0 lead following an RBI double from second baseman Alex Stiegler ’20 in the first and a solo homer from right fielder Teddy Hague ’21 in the second inning.
Shortstop Simon Whiteman ’19, who scored earlier in the first, pushed across another run when one of his three hits in the game made it 3–1 Yale, before a Virginia throwing error put the home team in a 4–1 hole later in the fourth inning.
The Bulldogs looked good with their ace on the mound, but pitcher Scott Politz ’19 allowed two more tallies in the later innings before exiting with two outs in the seventh and the tying run on third. Pitching right-handed, Dey blew the save as Cavalier first baseman Nate Eikhoff lined a game-tying double down the line.
Manager John Stuper stuck with his closer for an atypically long relief appearance. Dey pitched a solid eighth, but ended up with the loss after Virginia left fielder’s Charlie Cody’s walk-off single with two outs in the bottom of ninth gave his squad the 5–4 victory.
Forty minutes after the conclusion of Game 1, the two sides returned to Davenport Field for the latter half of Saturday’s double feature. Wanger opened the scoring with a two-RBI double to left center before Dey homered to right center in the third inning to give the Bulldogs a 4–0 advantage. Ahead by five runs in the fifth, Wanger recorded his fourth RBI of the afternoon on a two-run dinger that flew out of the ballpark before Dey went deep again in the seventh to extend Yale’s lead to 8–3.
Whiteman padded the Elis’ scoring cushion with a pair of late hits that scored two of the final three Yale runs in the eventual 11–4 win. Meanwhile, southpaw pitcher Kumar Nambiar ’19 earned his first victory of the season with seven solid innings of work against the Hoos, allowing just five hits along with five strikeouts and a single walk, before pitcher Tyler Sapsford ’20 pitched two scoreless frames to close out the game.
“Our defense and our hitting were the reason we were able to beat such a strong team,” Nambiar said. “It was a very big first win for us. We had timely hits throughout the game as well as some outstandings plays in the field. Knowing I can trust the seven guys behind me and my catcher, Alex Boos, makes life a lot easier on the mound.”
Both Yale and Virginia entered Sunday’s rubber match looking for the series-deciding triumph, but it was the Bulldogs who drew first blood in the first inning following an RBI single from Stiegler and an RBI double from Boos. Ahead 2–1 in the fourth inning, Yale extended its advantage to two runs.
In the seventh inning, matters began to unravel for the Bulldogs as Virginia tallied six runs after trailing 3–1. The first two batters reached against starting pitcher Eric Brodkowitz ’18, who was eventually relieved by Thomas Epsig ’20, who hit a batter and walked two more to tie the game.
Yale’s control problems continued as reliever Tyler Sapsford ’20 wild-pitched home the go-ahead run while failing to get an out. Reliever Mason Kukowski ’18 let three more runs cross the plate before he finally escaped the inning.
Facing a 7–3 deficit heading into the eighth inning, Yale responded with a run-scoring balk and a run-scoring hit from center fielder Tim DeGraw ’19, but failed to draw level in the frame despite runners on first and third with just one out. Virginia slammed the door in the top of the ninth to secure a 7–6 victory.
“Overall, the team was pleased with our performance,” Boos said. “We could have taken three games from them and there are things to learn from that, but even going 1–2 we had a lot of positive takeaways from this series, and the boys will be looking to build on this momentum on our spring trip. If we keep improving each game, this team is going to be tough to beat.”
Yale will return to action this Wednesday, traveling to Storrs to take on Connecticut at 3 p.m. before heading south to take on Davidson in a three-game series this Saturday and Sunday.
Joey Kamm | firstname.lastname@example.org