BASEBALL: Elis drop dramatic opening series against Auburn
Last weekend, the Yale baseball team kicked off its season with a dramatic set of games against Auburn, a rising threat in the SEC. The Bulldogs were shut out on Friday but battled in an impromptu Saturday doubleheader and wrapped up the series on a high note with a 5–4 win in extra innings.
Courtesy of Sam Rubin '95/Yale Athletics
Viewers were kept on the edge of their seats last weekend as the Bulldogs faced off against Auburn, in a series which featured everything from a shutout, a heartbreaking walk-off loss and a pitchers duel that morphed into a back-and-forth battle in extra innings.
The Yale baseball team (1–2, 0–0 Ivy) narrowly lost its three-game series against the Tigers (5–2, 0–0 SEC), dropping the first two games and winning the last one. The Bulldogs fell 0–9 in the opening on Friday, Feb. 25, but bounced back the next day to push the Tigers to their limits in close match-ups. The teams were originally meant to play on Sunday, but the game was moved up a day due to an unfavorable weather forecast, creating a sudden Saturday doubleheader. Despite the hectic weekend, the Elis remained calm and ready for anything.
“We just focus on one game at a time,” infielder Carson Swank ’23 said. “We got the news that we would be playing a doubleheader on Saturday, but no one was really phased by it. We came into the weekend very confident in our game and I think we showed we can compete against anyone, even more so in the second and third game[s] … What we did this weekend … showed a lot of promise for the rest of the year.”
This was the first time that the two teams had ever faced each other. The Bulldogs looked forward to kicking off its season in front of a roaring crowd of more than 3,000 spectators at Auburn’s Plainsman Park after almost two years of no collegiate play. The Tigers headed into the match-up with four individual games already under their belt, including a big win against then-No. 12 Texas Tech.
Yale had a rough start to the series against the Tigers, struggling both at the plate and on the mound. The squad’s woes began early in the first game. Though the Bulldogs’ two-hole, Swank, was hit by a pitch, Auburn senior starter Jordan Armstrong had a clean first inning that saw three Eli batters struck out.
Armstrong, who transferred from Chattahoochee Valley after a stellar junior year that featured a perfect winning record and a 1.65 ERA through 13 starts, picked up right where he left off last season on the mound Friday. The righty from Georgia struck out 11, walked none and allowed no runs through 5.1 innings to notch up his first career win with the Tigers.
On the other hand, Yale’s starter, right-handed pitcher Grant Kipp ’22, failed to fully find his stride on the mound in the first inning. After forcing Auburn’s leadoff man into a ground out, Kipp gave up a double to the opposing squad’s two-hole and then a two-RBI homer to the Tigers’ senior first baseman, Sonny DiChiara. Kipp lasted four innings and gave up six runs. The Auburn offense would continue to grow its lead in a game which saw the Tigers score in every inning except the fifth and sixth. By contrast, the Bulldogs would only manage to get four total hits and failed to score at all.
Though Yale’s offense left much to be desired on Friday, the first three innings of Saturday’s first game saw the Bulldog bats burning with a vengeance. The Elis also showed excellent running on the base paths throughout the game.
“The beautiful thing about baseball is that there isn’t any time to dwell on your performance because there’s always a game the next day,” captain and shortstop Mason LaPlante ’22 said about the team’s improvement over the weekend. “Our offensive philosophy centers around producing as many hard hits as we can … and maybe Friday night we let the stadium environment change us. We went into Saturday’s games feeling like we had something to prove, and I think we did just that.”
LaPlante was a critical component of Yale’s offense during the weekend and was one of the few Bulldogs who was able to get a hit on Friday. The star infielder got things going on Saturday with a single off of Auburn’s right-handed starter Joseph Gonzalez in the first. After stealing second base and advancing to third on a wild pitch, LaPlante put himself in the perfect position for the next batter to bring him home. Three-hole Swank did just that, and put the Bulldogs on the board with a single to right field. He would also steal second, but was left stranded on the bases.
Yale continued scoring in the next two innings. The bottom of the line-up was impressive during the weekend and came through in the clutch on several occasions. Seven-hole Alec Atkinson ’24 and eight-hole Jimmy Chatfield ’24 both singled in the second, and Atkinson was able to score the second run for the Bulldogs on a sac-fly from fellow middle infielder Tommy Martin ’25. Atkinson would shine again in the third inning, with an RBI-double that brought Swank home from third base.
However, the Bulldogs lost steam after the third inning and failed to capitalize on many scoring opportunities. For example, even after a double steal by Swank and outfielder Pierce Blohowiak ’22 that put two runners in scoring position at the top of the seventh, the players were left on base and unable to score.
Pitcher Michael Walsh ’23, who started strong, also began to have troubles with command in the fourth inning, where he hit three batters. Walsh would give up three runs in five innings on the mound before left-handed Reid Easterly ’24 took over. Though the southpaw would strike out three, he also gave up a walk-off homerun to Auburn senior outfielder Kason Howell in the bottom of the ninth. The homer ended the game with a score of 4–3 in favor of the Tigers and did not give the Bulldogs the chance to fight in extra innings.
However, the Elis had no time to lament the results. After approximately 45 minutes, the squad was warmed up and ready for the second game of the doubleheader, where they were determined to have a different ending.
The first six innings consisted of a pitchers’ duel between Auburn’s starter, junior Trace Bright, and rookie Colton Shaw ’25, who was sensational in his pitching debut for the Bulldogs. Both pitchers gave up no runs, and Shaw only allowed two hits in his outing. In the seventh inning, Yale scored a run against Auburn, but the Tigers fought back and put up two runs in response. Chatfield went to the moon for the Bulldogs in the eighth with a one-run homer, but Auburn responded with one of their own.
The battle in the late innings continued into extras. In the tenth, the Bulldogs managed to get past the Tigers and scored two runs. Yale ended the series on a high note with the 5–4 win. Right-handed pitcher Mark Capell ’25 was rewarded for four solid innings of relief and a six-strikeout performance by earning the win Saturday night.
“It was great to be thrown into the fire, [to come] in the seventh inning [of] a tight game,” Capell said about his pitching debut. “The biggest thing for me was to trust my arsenal and my teammates, which led me to getting weak contact and strikeouts. Getting my first win under the lights at Auburn is a great start to my career here at Yale, and it truly couldn’t [have been done] without my other guys out on the field behind me.”
The Bulldogs still have six non-conference opponents to play against after the series against Auburn. They will spend two more weeks on the road before returning home on Tuesday, March 15 for a single game against Marist College. These match-ups will be crucial in further developing the team and preparing it for conference games.
Ivy League play will prove to be intense this year, as other Ancient Eight teams have already begun to show their promise in non-conference play. Last Friday, Harvard stunned No. 24 Miami with a 11–6 upset win to kick-off the season on Friday. However, the Crimson went on to lose the series, suffering a crushing 0–10 defeat in its final game. The Quakers were also outstanding in a 2–1 series win against Texas A&M, which is ranked fourth in the SEC West, allowing the Philly squad to claim this week’s Ivy Player and Pitcher of the Week awards.
“The series [against Auburn] as a whole was a big step forward for us,” LaPlante said. “Being able to turn the page on what was honestly an ugly game for us Friday night and compete the way we did for 19 innings on Saturday proves we belong on the field with anyone.”
The Bulldogs will now turn their attention to this weekend, as they travel to Seattle to face off against Washington in a four-game series.