Sam Rubin

Following a heartbreaking 10–9 loss to Fairfield on Wednesday, the Yale baseball team resumes Ivy play with three games at archrival Harvard this weekend. Yale, sporting four conference wins already after two series, sits tied for first in the Ancient Eight with the Crimson and Columbia.

The Bulldogs (10–14, 4–2 Ivy) travel to O’Donnell Field to face off with the Crimson (14–6, 4–2 Ivy), the first real interconference test for the 2019 Yale squad. The Elis took two games and a whole lot of momentum from their series against Harvard last year, but the Crimson is currently looking resurgent and dangerous. This series will bump one of these teams from the top spot in the conference, so tensions will be running high in Cambridge.

“There’s always some added pressure when we play a big rival, but our coaches have instilled in us a plan that we work each day towards achieving,” pitcher Scott Politz ’19 said. “If we are able to execute our individual tasks, we are confident the score will reflect our successes in the end.”

The Yale-Harvard rivalry, which always produces competitive baseball, once again promises a fiery matchup. Last year, Yale came into the series with Harvard riding high off of an eight-game winning streak. The Crimson showed no signs of intimidation and jumped all over the Bulldogs in the first game, as Yale could not find any offense behind a no-hitter from Harvard pitcher Noah Zavolas. Harvard bested the Bulldogs 4–0 in comfortable fashion.

Yale recovered from the Crimson’s sucker punch and battled back in the ensuing double-header. The Bulldogs triumphed in the first game of the twinbill, led by a four strike-out masterclass from pitcher Kumar Nambiar ’19. First baseman Griffin Dey ’19 and infielder Simon Whiteman ’19 both had three hits on the day, with Yale winning 10–6.

The Elis rode the momentum into the final game of the series for a 4–1 victory. Catcher Cal Christofori ’21 was an absolute iron man behind the plate, catching all 18 innings on the day and blasting a decisive double late in the game to put Yale ahead for good. The two wins against Harvard played a crucial role in the Bulldogs securing the 2018 Ivy League Regular Season Championship.

“It’s going to be a cold series against a tough Harvard opponent,” catcher Jake Gehri ’22 said. “We’re all just trying to find our beach and have a good time. When we throw strikes and limit free bases, we can run with anybody.”

An underappreciated aspect of Yale’s success so far this season is its fielding. The Bulldogs rank first in the Ivy League in team defense. The White and Blue sport an immaculate .981 fielding percentage, while Yale also has a staggering 256 assists as a team this year — far and away the most in the conference. Opposing teams struggle to get runners on base versus the tough Yale defense.

Harvard, who is off to an impressive start this year, poses a real challenge for the Bulldogs. After dropping the first two games of the season, the Crimson responded with an impressive five-game winning streak. Harvard has also been dominant in conference play so far this year, faring well with four wins in six combined games against Penn and Princeton. The Crimson clinched a 12–0 series win against the Tigers, fueled by a seven-run seventh inning.

Led by experienced pitchers Politz and Alex Stiegler ’20, the Yale bullpen has been crucial for the team’s success this year. Stiegler’s season is on the upswing following his masterful complete game last weekend against Cornell, with his fastball working wonders over the plate. Politz has been a sure thing on the mound, winning four of his six games pitched with a 3.02 ERA.

Yale has seen pitching production from its underclassmen as well. Right-hander Ben Gibbs ’22 has seen considerable success already as a member of Yale’s rotation. The first year has nine strikeouts through seven innings tossed to compliment a 2.57 ERA.

Harvard has relied on its offense all year, benefitting from consistent production at the plate. First baseman Patrick McColl has been on fire, currently ranking first in the Ivy League in most offensive categories. The sophomore is batting a sweltering .443 to go along with six home runs. Junior Jake Suddelson will also be sure to pose a dangerous challenge for the Bulldog pitchers, batting .377 with seven long balls.

Gehri has shined in the designated hitter role with five home runs so far and recently earned Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors. Infielder Mason Laplante ’22 also settled into a starting role in several games for Yale, showing few nerves by turning three double plays from second base. Rookies have shown up both at the plate and on the field for Yale this year in a variety of roles.

“Playing as a first year is a real privilege, and I’m honored to be behind the dish for our team this year,” bullpen catcher Clay Tamburri ’22 said. “I like to think of this team as a slow cooker rather than a microwave: we’ve been waiting to get hot for just the right time, and I know that this weekend is that time.”

This weekend’s Yale-Harvard series begins with a doubleheader on Saturday before a third and final game on Sunday.

Eamonn Smith | eamonn.smith@yale.edu