Courtesy of Steve Musco

The Yale team faces its biggest test of the young 2018–2019 season this weekend with a three-game series against powerhouse No. 5 Florida. Yale looks primed to play the giant-killer after an impressive showing against New Orleans last weekend.

The Bulldogs (3–4, 0–0 Ivy) take on the Gators (10–5, 0–0 SEC) three times over the course of this upcoming weekend. Yale has been getting some serious early recognition that should have the Gators prepared for a fight. Pitcher Scott Politz ’19 was named Ivy League Pitcher of the Week for the second time in a row and pitcher Kumar Nambiar ’19 tossed six scoreless innings against New Orleans last weekend. The Elis’ pitching will have to stay excellent to stifle Florida’s prolific batting.

“The games versus top 25 teams like Florida, UCF and Stetson will challenge our depth both in the lineup and in the bullpen,” said infielder Dai Dai Otaka ’20. “It will be a good gauge as to how we’ll stack up in Ivy League play and hopefully later on in the season in the NCAA tournament.”

Florida has gotten off to a flying start this year, fully earning its top 10 national ranking. A highlight of the Gators’ season so far was an astonishing 28–5 demolishing of Winthrop University. The Gators sent six balls into the stands en route to recording an astonishing 27 RBIs.

Gators Kendrick Calilao and Jacob Young each had two home runs in the game. Florida also began its season with a commanding three-game sweep of Long Beach State. Before their loss to Florida Gulf Coast on Wednesday, the Gators were without a loss through their last four games.

“We’re preparing the way we do for any other weekend. We know they’re a good team, and it’ll be a good challenge for us,” Benny Wanger ’19 said. “I think if we play our game, it should be a competitive matchup. They’re a young team and are susceptible to mistakes as are we.”

The batting for the Bulldogs has been efficient so far this season. Infielder and captain Simon Whiteman ’19 is leading from the front with an unbelievable .419 batting average so far this year, but he is not alone in his stellar swinging of the stick. Otaka has been a sure thing at the plate, as he opened the season with a five-game hitting streak. The junior now has eight hits to his name this year. Infielder Mason LaPlante ’22 is showing no first-year jitters and is batting a sweet .350 with three RBIs.

The pitching for Florida has been steady to begin the year. Nolan Crisp is off to great start on the mound for the Gators, posting a team-low 1.29 ERA through his team-high six appearances. However, Tommy Mace and Jack Leftwich have been the biggest producers of strikeouts for Florida. Both Mace and Leftwich have sent 17 batters back to their dugouts this season. These two also lead the Gator Bullpen with three wins each. Yale needs to be ready for these two aces to come out dealing this weekend.

Yale has relied heavily on its sluggers in the first few series of this season. Leading the way are first baseman Griffin Dey ’19 and Wanger, who are making their last season in the blue and white one to remember. They are the only two Elis to homer this season.

Dey was recently named to the weekly Ivy League Honor Roll for his inspired play versus New Orleans. The senior caused the Privateers real headaches by batting .500 through the three-game series. Meanwhile, Wanger has been shifty when he’s been on base, recording two steals on the year. These two big bats for the Bulldogs bring real intimidation to the Yale batting order.

Florida has been proficient in its ability to draw walks and steal bases. Gator batters have been walked 75 times through 15 games. In one game during its series against Winthrop, Florida drew 11 walks. Calilao has drawn nine walks himself, while Wil Dalton has lead the way for the Gators in terms of steals. The junior has successfully stolen three bases in his three attempts. Yale’s pitching will need to stay composed against the wily batters of Florida.

“We’ve been preparing similarly to the ways we do with other opponents,” said catcher Cal Christofori ’21. “We’ve probably spent a little more time practicing with a higher velocity in hitting. A series win would be awesome for us and mean a ton, but at this point in the year, it’s more important to hone in on the approach and game plan that will make us successful in the long run.”

The Bulldogs face off with Florida from Friday through Sunday this weekend down in Gainesville.

Eamonn Smith | eamonn.smith@yale.edu .