As Yale students begin to pack their bags for spring break, the Yale baseball team is set to do the same, as the squad embarks on its third straight road trip of the season — this time to South Carolina, where the Swig and Swine Classic awaits them.
While the Bulldogs (2–4, 0–0 Ivy) have yet to secure a series win in any of their previous two weekend stints against Citadel and Old Dominion, the Elis head into Charleston again fresh off of its most impressive offensive performance in nearly three years to the tune of 19 runs scored in a single game. One has to go back to a 2017 game in April against Harvard to find a contest in which the Blue and White put up more runs. The road trip will also be one that Yale has had recent experience with, as the Bulldogs played their season opener in downtown Charleston against the aforementioned Citadel. On this occasion, the Elis head to South Carolina to take part in the eighth annual edition of the Swig and Swine Classic, to match up against Ball State (3–8 0–0 Mid-American), Sacred Heart (3–5, 0–0 Northeast) and Richmond (2–10, 0–0 A-10).
If the Blue and White hopes to string together a few wins during this spring classic, then catcher and the most recent recipient of Ivy League Player of the Week Jake Gehri ’22 will have to step up. The Buckely, Washington, native’s most recent performance against Old Dominion was arguably the best of his young collegiate career. He wound up finishing the game five for five and a double short of the cycle en route to seven runs batted in — two more than his previous career high. Through the six games that he has appeared in, Gehri has compiled a total of nine hits, 11 RBIs and two home runs.
“Very excited, ready for some warm weather,” Gehri said about the road trip. “[Playing against three different teams] makes scouting difficult. You don’t really know for sure what pitcher you are going to face, so you can’t prepare accordingly. I think it will be cool to see so many different players in a short amount of time. But I look forward to the games in Florida.”
Among the slate of opponents that the Bulldogs are matched up against this weekend, Gehri has experience against just one: Nutmeg State rival Sacred Heart. Yet, in the two times he faced them during his rookie campaign, the catcher managed just one hit in a combined six at-bats — a stat that could very well change after this weekend.
Another Eli to keep an eye on for this weekend is rookie infielder Carson Swank ’23, who earned Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors for his play against Old Dominion. The Ashburn, Virginia native has gotten off to a hot start, tallying at least one hit in each of Yale’s first six games this season. Swank comes into this weekend hitting a magnificent .400 on the year with seven RBIs.
“We’ve had a great few days of preparing both our minds and bodies during practice,” Pierce Blohowiak ’22 said, “which has put us in a good position to win a lot of games going forward. We look to re-ignite the explosiveness of our offense seen this past Sunday in order to have what we think will be a special weekend.”
On the mound, Ben Gibbs ’22 has also been enjoying a fantastic start to the season. After pitching a six-inning shutout in his first start of the campaign against the Citadel, Gibbs blanked the Monarchs through four innings a week later, before giving up his first earned runs of the year in the fifth inning.
The main focus for the pitching staff this weekend will be to reduce damage in the early innings. All four Eli losses have come when Yale concedes at least one run in the opening inning, and both Sunday wins came after the first frame was kept clean.
The very first contest of the tournament pits the Blue and White against Ball State in an early 11 a.m. game on Friday. The Mid-American Conference team is 3–8 overall with a team batting average of .231. The Cardinals’ most recent game saw the squad drop a close 4–3 contest against Gardner-Webb in the most heartbreaking fashion — a walk off.
With Ball State grabbing a quick 2–0 lead in the top of the second, Cardinals starting pitcher Ty Weatherly worked a strong four innings — conceding a lone run in the third, before handing the ball off to fellow pitcher Tyler Hill. With Ball State getting a run back in the fourth to make it 3–1, Hill kept it a two-run game with two scoreless innings of relief. Yet, Gardner-Webb clawed its way back in the seventh-inning, getting two runs to make it a 3–3 ballgame.
With the score tied in the top of the 9th, a walk and an error put Cardinals at the corners, but Gardner-Webb closer Chase Lane managed to escape the inning with the tie intact. In an unfortunate turn of events, on the very first pitch of the bottom of the ninth, a Runnin’ Bulldog smacked the ball past the centerfield fence to steal the game and hand Ball State the 4–3 loss.
Sacred Heart will be facing its second Ancient Eight opponent this season. The Pioneers’ are looking to reproduce the success they found against Brown who they defeated 2–1 thanks to the incredible performance of starting pitcher Ryan LaMay. The Connecticut native pitched seven innings of one run ball enroute to his first victory of the season. The Northeast conference team followed through on this big win the next day by barely leaping over LaSalle 10–9.
Most recently, the Pioneers were swept in a two game series against Wake Forest. In the second game, its most recent match before the weekend, the Sacred Heart offense struggled mightily and were blanked by the Deacons in a final score of 9–0. The Bulldogs will be looking to capitalize on Sacred Heart’s struggles at the plate. The collective batting average for the team from Fairfield currently stands at .236, and the difference between its slugging and on base numbers, .319 and .301 respectively, suggest that Sacred Heart’s team has not been able to hit for extra bases.
The Elis last opponent, Richmond, has also struggled early in the season. The Spiders, coached by former major league player Tracy Woodson, finished fifth last year in the Atlantic-10 conference. Richmond started its season against SEC powerhouse Georgia — ranked fourth in the country. The South Carolina team was swept in three games and had to wait until it faced its third opponent of the season, Lehigh, to pick up its first win of the season. The Hawks would drop another game to Richmond, giving them their only series win of the season.
The immediate need for the Spiders is to end their losing streak. Richmond has lost six games in a row and needs to start building momentum for its A-10 games that begin March 23 when they face off against La Salle at home. BaseballAmerica.com projects the Spiders to finish fourth in their conference, and while there is still a lot of baseball to play, the collective batting average of .235 is down from last year’s mark of .283.
On the pitching side, the same is true. Richmond currently has an ERA of 7.07 up from last year’s 4.54. These numbers are bound to improve as the season progresses but it is clear that the Spider squad is still not in full form and is due to bounce back.
The Bulldogs will play an additional seven games over the break against Jacksonville, University of Central Florida, Quinnipiac and Brown before classes resume on March 23.
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