Following its disappointing midweek loss to Sacred Heart, the always resilient Yale baseball team now takes on perennial Ivy powerhouse Columbia in three games this weekend. The Elis have slipped to fourth in the standings in recent weeks, so victory this weekend is imperative.
The Bulldogs (11–17, 5–4 Ivy) host the Lions (10–15, 6–3) at Yale Field with a doubleheader on Saturday and the final game on Sunday. This series is a rematch of the thrilling Ivy League Championship Series last year, in which Columbia bested Yale 2–1 in a white-knuckle, 15-inning Game 2. The Elis will be out for revenge in these three crucial conference contests.
“We’re going to need to continue putting good swings on the ball and trusting our defense,” captain and infielder Simon Whiteman ’19 said. “If we throw strikes, limit free bases and do those two, we’ll be in a great spot come weekend’s end.”
The regular season series last season between these two squads was an absolute slugfest, as game one featured 21 total runs. The Lions were Yale’s Ivy opener, which was an early test for the Bulldogs. In his first Ivy action, outfielder Harry Hegeman ’21 drove in a staggering five runs in the game. However, Yale fell 11–10 in the matchup despite Hegeman’s best efforts. The Elis then fell in the following game to the Lions 6–5, a nail-biter that featured quality pitching by left-hander Kumar Nambiar ’19.
The Bulldogs refused to let Columbia sweep them without a fight and threw all they had at the Lions in the final fixture. First baseman and resident slugger Griffin Dey ’19 belted a three-run blast to put Yale up three late in the game. Hegeman also had a crucial single to score a run. The fixture finished with a Yale victory by a convincing 8–2 scoreline.
Yale will have extra motivation in this matchup after falling to Sacred Heart on Wednesday, a game in which there were plenty of positives despite the negative result. The Bulldogs blasted balls over the warning track all afternoon, with Dey going yard twice and Whiteman adding a knock of his own. Pitcher Alex Stiegler ’20 also did damage at the plate, throttling a triple in the seventh. However, two runs by Sacred Heart in the ninth crushed Yale’s hopes of a win as the Pioneers triumphed 9–8.
Columbia, which has gotten off to a fast start this season, will pose a real test for Yale. The Lions sport a 6–3 record and are tied atop the Ivy league with Harvard and Penn. Outfielder Julian Bury has 34 hits this year to lead the Columbia offense, while first baseman Chandler Bengtson has handled the slugging for the Lions with six homers. Left-hander Josh Simpson has been stellar on the mound, toting a quality 2.58 ERA and a 4–1 record.
The Bulldogs will also need to quickly get over their last Ivy conference series, where they fell 2–1 to a susceptible Harvard. In the first game against the Crimson last Saturday, the Elis built an 8–1 lead in the ninth, with only three outs separating them from a crucial win against Columbia’s co-Ivy leaders. Heartbreakingly, some poor pitching allowed the Harvard offense back into the game. The Bulldogs’ nadir came right at the end when Harvard first baseman Patrick McColl hit a grand slam walk-off that propelled Harvard to a 10–8 victory.
A positive from Yale’s most recent Ancient Eight clash came in Game 3, when the Blue and White made a comeback of its own thanks to clutch hitting late on. Infielder Tim DeGraw ’19 smashed a single with two on base to tie the game at 7–7 at the top of the ninth, before Dey sac-flied home a runner to give the Elis an 8–7 advantage. Reliever Rohan Handa ’22 then closed the game to give Yale a much-needed win.
“This series is huge for us. Everyone is really excited to get the weekend going,” Dey said. “Despite our excitement, we are doing our best to trust our process and focus on controlling what we can control.”
Game 1 starts at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday at Yale Field.
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