The Yale baseball team can all but guarantee its third-straight appearance in the Ivy League Championship Game with a solid performance against Princeton this weekend.
Despite pipping Yale to the Ivy League title in 2016, Princeton (10–20, 7–8 Ivy) has lost its last nine regular-season contests against Yale (17–17, 11–4) dating back to March 2013. The Bulldogs, who own a two-game lead over second-place Columbia and Harvard in the conference standings, will look to wrap up a top-two position in the Ivy League with a series victory over a team that has dropped eight of its last 11 games following the Elis’ 4–3 loss to Fordham on Tuesday.
By securing a top-two spot in the conference, the Bulldogs would have the opportunity to claim back-to-back Ivy League crowns for the first time since the team won three consecutive titles between 1992 and 1994.
“We are not overlooking Princeton or Penn because we know there are teams on our heels in the standings so every game is important,” first baseman Benny Wanger ’19 said. “It is a matter of collecting as many wins as possible heading into the last two weekends and that starts this weekend at Princeton.”
Two seasons ago, Princeton denied the Elis a chance to compete in the NCAA tournament by winning the final two games of the 2016 Ivy League Championship Series, with the title-clinching win coming on a walk-off wild pitch. Last season, the Bulldogs exacted revenge on the Tigers and claimed the Ivy League championship, while Princeton plummeted back toward the middle of the league standings.
The Tigers are coming off a forgettable midweek series against Harvard in which they were decisively swept at home. Princeton was doomed by its shaky play on the mound in the losses, surrendering an average of more than eight runs per game against Harvard. The three meetings against the Crimson were indicative of the pitching inconsistencies that have plagued the Tigers all season long, leaving them sixth in the conference with a 6.07 ERA. However, despite the team’s problems on the hill, right-hander Ben Gross has stood out as one of the league’s most effective performers. The senior has racked up four wins as a starter thus far, pacing the Tigers and tying for third-most in the Ancient Eight, while posting an ERA of 2.63 in league play.
While the Tigers have struggled to string together victories during the Ivy season — their largest winning streak in conference play is just two games — the Bulldogs have been a model of consistency since the opening weekend of league play. Since suffering two consecutive defeats against Columbia at the end of March, the Bulldogs have compiled an 11–2 record against Ancient Eight teams. Excluding the first conference series of the year against the Lions, the Elis have won every league series thus far, including sweeps against Brown and Cornell.
Yale comes into this weekend looking to continue its league-leading play on the bump. Through 15 games of Ivy play, the Bulldogs have emerged as the best pitching team in the conference with a 3.62 ERA. Breaking out this season with his stellar contributions as a starter has been right-hander Eric Brodkowitz ’18. Along with Harvard’s Noah Zavolas, Brodkowitz leads the Ivy League with five overall wins on the hill. Against all competition, the senior Eli joins Zavolas and Brown’s Will Tomlinson as the only pitchers in the conference to record sub-3.20 ERAs during the current campaign.
“We’re in the driver seat right now, but need to take advantage of it,” Brodkowitz said. “We’ve been playing really well at home, so these next couple of series are huge for us. It’s a great culture we have right now, and we decided that winning is fun and have stuck to that. Other than that, a lot of guys bought in to one goal which is the best way to have a team.”
While the Elis are seeking a three-game sweep over Princeton, a single win may be enough to push them into the Ivy League Championship Series considering recent history. Since 2010, every Ancient Eight squad that has won at least 12 games in conference play has either played for a conference title or at a bare minimum qualified for a one-game playoff for a slot in the series, although the adjusted Ivy schedule added an extra game to each team’s slate.
Success in the Elis’ remaining games will also be crucial to securing home-field advantage for the Ivy League championship.
“Having the home field in a big series just helps the boys get riled up for our games when knowing that we’re about to take the field with our friends and family cheering us,” third baseman Alex Stiegler ’20 said.
The Bulldogs and Tigers will play a doubleheader on Saturday at Clarke Field in Princeton with games set for 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. before the two sides reconvene for the series finale on Sunday at 1 p.m.
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