Courtesy of Steve Musco

As the Yale men’s baseball team watched Columbia wildly celebrate its 15-inning victory over the Bulldogs in the Ivy League Championship series, the goal for the 2019 season became clear. The Elis are gearing up for a victory this time around with a senior-laden squad ripe with talent, depth and experience.

“Our goals for the season are to definitely get back to the Ivy League championship and win it this year after suffering a loss in the championship last year,” catcher Cal Christofori ’21 said. “That’s what we have our sights on, and that’s what we work towards everyday. I think this team goal kind of goes hand in hand with our personal goals.”

The Bulldogs graduated seven seniors from last year, but the remaining team is one that has clear promise and loads of potential. Infielder Simon Whiteman ’19 was named captain of this year’s squad after a successful junior campaign and headlines a talented senior class for the Bulldogs.

Outfielder Tim DeGraw ’19 led the Elis in runs last year with 38 while first baseman Griffin Dey ’19 has been slugging the ball since his first year on the team with 18 home runs in his illustrious Yale career. The Bulldogs’ pitching rotations will rely heavily on the arsenal provided by veteran starters Benny Wanger ’19 and Scott Politz ’19, both All-Ivy selections last year.

Despite the heartbreak against Columbia, Yale still finished as the regular season champion in 2018. The Bulldogs saw unprecedented production from a fantastic corp of first years. Outfielder Teddy Hague ’21 saw extensive time in his debut season and did not waste the opportunity. He was named an All-Ivy honorable mention, batting an insane .349 average against Ivy opponents.

Christofori had pitchers quaking in their cleats all throughout his first year. He batted .343 in all competitions with five doubles but raised his average to .375 when facing Ivy competition. Outfielder Harry Hegeman ’21 contributed as well, batting a steady .260 in 38 games. These players will look to avoid the sophomore slump and continue to be crucial contributors to Yale’s batting lineup.

The Elis turned in a solid performance in 2018 but were especially dominant in Ivy play. The Bulldogs went 22–21 overall but tore up the Ancient Eight en route to a 15–6 conference record. Their 15 wins topped the Ivy League and gave them their second-straight regular season title.

Yale led the league in fielding percentage as it posted a stellar .985 mark in its 43 games. A highlight of the 2017–18 season came in the squad’s triple header against Harvard. After dropping the first game 4–0 to the Crimson, Yale came roaring back with 10–6 and 4–1 victories against its archrival. The Bulldogs will be looking to build of this productive season coming into the 2018–19 campaign.

“Last season we left a lot of business unfinished,” Whiteman said. “Our returning players all have that taste in our mouth and are fired up to get back to it. We’ve got a lot of talent this year but need to continue to refine our play and improve at all junctions. If we continue to do that, we’re confident we’ll be in a good place come Ivy play and beyond.”

Many people are already jumping on the Yale bandwagon this year, as the media recognizes the Bulldogs’ tremendous potential. The Elis were ranked first in the Ivy League 2019 Baseball Preseason Poll, amassing 11 of the total 16 first-place votes. Baseball America, a national baseball magazine, dubbed the Bulldogs the “Team to Beat” in the Ivy League this season. John Stuper, the Elis’ manager, is returning for a 27th season to lead his team into battle and brings an unbelievable amount of experience as the head coach.

The first years this season have big shoes to fill following the huge effect the class of 2021 had in its rookie year. Infielder Mason LaPlante ’22 was both a district defensive MVP and team MVP for his high school squad. The Elis also landed speedy outfielder Pierce Blohowiak ’22, who was a three-time all-conference selection in high school while playing six different positions through his career.

Yale is also getting big contributions to its bullpen in the incoming class. Pitcher Grant Kipp ’22 was a standout in high school, posting a tremendous 1.13 ERA and striking out 123 batters in his two year career. Fellow pitcher Ben Gibbs ’22 was also a coveted prospect, holding the single-season record for victories and career wins at his high school. These rookies add depth to the Bulldogs’ rotation and the potential to make an immediate impact.

The Bulldogs have a challenging season of opponents. So far this year, the team has matched up against New Mexico State, a tough out of conference opponent who earned an NCAA Regional bid in 2018. In four games, the Yale managed just a single win. The series was highlighted by Wanger’s exceptional swinging of the bat.

The senior homered in the opening game of the series and followed that up with four hits in the last matchup. That series is the beginning of a incredibly difficult nonconference road slate for the Bulldogs. They face New Orleans, No. 7 Florida, UCF and Stetson in the upcoming weeks. These talented teams will give the Elis a chance to set the tone for this pivotal season before they begin Ivy play against Brown on March 23.

“This year’s team has a lot of talent spread across the four classes,” Politz said. “We’re hoping to prepare for Ivy League play by challenging ourselves against quality competition like Florida and New Mexico State. This team has the potential to accomplish some things that the Ivy League hasn’t seen before.”

Yale opens up the season this weekend with three games versus New Orleans in Louisiana.

Eamonn Smith | eamonn.smith@yale.edu