Courtesy of Steve Musco

Yale faced a series of tough out-of-conference foes over spring break, putting forth its best effort against formidable opposition.

The No. 14 Florida Gators dominated the Bulldogs through three games in the opening weekend. UCF then snatched two more wins from the Elis. Still, Yale dug deep in its third series of the break to capture two victories against a resilient Stetson team. After an easy victory against Quinnipiac, the Bulldogs took the first of a three-game series against Brown this past Saturday before playing a split doubleheader on Sunday against the Bears.

Yale (7–10, 1–0 Ivy) took on Florida (16–10, 1–5 SEC), UCF (15–8, 0–2 AAC), Stetson (8–13, 0–0 MAAC), Quinnipiac (7–11, 0–2 MAAC) and Brown (4–12, 1–1 Ivy) in a loaded gauntlet of games this break. The first game against Florida was a contentious affair, with both teams struggling to get into offensive rhythm. Yale’s day was defined by the dominance of infielder and captain Simon Whiteman ’19. He continued his stellar final campaign by posting four hits on the day to lead the Elis. But in the end, Florida eked out a 6–5 victory.

“Team confidence is at an all-time high, and that is more important than raw talent, which we do have,” pitcher Alex Stiegler ’20 said. “The guys are starting to figure out what we are capable of and that allows us to stay in every game, no matter the situation.”

The second game was all Florida, as Yale failed to capitalize on its offensive opportunities. The Bulldogs stranded eight runners in the first five innings alone. Florida put on a show at the plate, with two homers coming from Jud Fabian and Nelson Maldonado, while infielder Mason LaPlante ’22 recorded Yale’s only extra-base hit as he smacked a double in the fifth to score Whiteman.

The third and final matchup of the series was the closest yet, with Florida barely besting the Bulldogs 4–3. Stiegler was throwing smoke for the Elis, whiffing seven batters through nearly seven innings. Catcher Jake Gehri ’22 throttled two home runs to add to his season total of five. Despite the offensive and defensive proficiency, Yale faltered late and ended up losing the game by a single run.

“Spring break games were a good measuring stick for us to see where we were at heading into the season,” catcher Cal Christofori ’21 said. “We played some bigger schools and played them tough and got a couple wins along the way. This weekend we played solid but [are] still trying to get to our best. We dropped the middle game of the series, which hurts, but we came back strong with a win and got two out of three for the series, which is something we always want to do. We’re off to a solid start and looking to continue to gain momentum heading further into the Ivy League schedule.”

UCF was next on the docket for Yale, and the teams played two games in the middle of the week. The Golden Knights caught their stride against the Bulldogs and continued their successful start to the season, capturing both games. The first game was a tight 7–5 victory by UCF during which Yale had plenty of chances to snatch a win. Pitcher Griffin Dey ’19 had a tremendous outing at the plate, with a hit and three RBIs. However, the second game belonged solely to the Golden Knights, who drubbed the Bulldogs 8–1. Three different UCF players recorded doubles en route to the eight runs. The sole bright spot for the Elis was outfielder Teddy Hague ’21, who managed to achieve an impressive perfect hitting day. He went 3–3.

Yale came roaring back from these defeats in its away series against Stetson. The Elis showed out in the first game, posting 16 hits on their way to a convincing 13–3 win. Pitcher Scott Politz ’19 pitched a dominant seven innings in the rout, giving up only three runs. However, Stetson came roaring back in the next game. The Hatters’ Benito Varela smashed a home run as his team knotted the series with a 7–5 scoreline. The Hatters led the Bulldogs in hits 11–7. Finally, the Bulldogs closed out the series with a brilliant 7–3 victory. Stiegler struck out 14 batters in this game, a tremendous highlight for Yale.

“We showed that we have all the tools to be successful against solid competition, and now we need to focus on consistently bringing our highest-level play weekend after weekend,” Politz said. “There are multiple close games we wish we could have back from the spring break trip, but those experiences will ultimately be useful in cleaning up the mistakes and shortcomings that were found.”

With their spirits restored after the successful series at Stetson, the Elis faced off with Quinnipiac last Wednesday. This game marked the home opener for Yale, a huge moment every year. The Bulldogs were up to the challenge posed by this pivotal fixture and dominated the Bobcats. Dey sent a grand slam into the bleachers and notched six total runs that day. Meanwhile, outfielder Harry Hegeman ’21 had a pristine hitting day, going 3–3 with two runs and a RBI. The Elis walked away with a masterful 11–2 domination of Quinnipiac.

Yale closed out its spring break with a three-game series against Brown. The Bulldogs kept their momentum from the Quinnipiac win and took the first game by force, trouncing the Bears 13–3. Gehri kept to his slugging ways, smashing a home run and grand slam. Infielder Brian Ronai ’20 also went deep to add to the scoring. Similar to the series with Stetson, the Elis slipped in the second game. The Bears eked out an 8–7 victory over the Bulldogs in a heartbreaking defeat for Yale. The Elis managed a two-run ninth inning, but it was not enough. The final game was a return to form for Yale, which bested Brown 11–3. Gehri had yet another home run, and Whiteman had a day with three hits and two runs batted in.

Yale faces Hartford away on Wednesday before entering a three-game series versus Cornell at home this weekend.

Eamonn Smith | eamonn.smith@yale.edu