BASEBALL: Bulldogs dominate during spring break, sweep Princeton to start Ivy season
The Yale baseball team had a successful spring break stretch, winning five out of its seven games, including a dominant sweep against Princeton in the Ivy opener.
Courtesy of Yale Athletics
Over the past two weeks, the Yale baseball team (11–6, 3–0 Ivy) brought the heat on both sides of the country. Currently ranked first in the Ivy League standings, the Blue and White had a triumphant spring break stretch, winning five of their past seven games and staying undefeated at home.
Fueled by a four-game winning streak, the Bulldogs opened spring break play by traveling west to face off against California Baptist University (15–6, 4–4 WAC), a powerhouse team in the Western Athletic Conference. While the Blue and White dropped the three-game series, they handed the Lancers their first non-conference loss of the season.
However, the Elis recovered quickly a few days later with a dominant victory at home against Quinnipiac (5–13, 0–0 MAAC), delivering their best offensive performance to date, scoring 19 runs. Over spring break, the Bulldogs also had a fantastic start to Ivy play, sweeping Princeton (2–16, 0–3 Ivy) in a three-game away series that featured a historic individual performance from catcher Jake Gehri ’22.
“We are starting to figure out that we can be elite at all facets of the game,” captain and shortstop Mason LaPlante ’22 said about the team’s recent success. “We can be elite defensively, we can be elite offensively, and of course, we can be elite on the mound. So, that gives us a lot of confidence heading into Ivy League play, which I think we saw with the performance against Princeton.”
Yale began to display its strength in a three-game away series at California Baptist University on Friday, March 18. The Lancers are the two-time defending champions of the Western Athletic Conference, and were going into the match-up against the Elis with two convincing wins against Utah Valley and University of Nevada, Las Vegas under their belt. Before facing the Bulldogs, CBU had also been undefeated against non-conference opponents.
The Bulldogs challenged the California team from the very start. Though the Lancers struck first in the series opener, scoring five runs in the first two innings, Yale responded with an explosive five-run third inning to even things out. The two squads were closely-matched and proceeded to trade runs. After scoreless seventh and eighth innings, Yale and CBU headed into the final inning tied at seven. However, the Lancers were ultimately the ones to come out on top, taking advantage of a bases-loaded situation and hitting a walk-off single that would allow them to narrowly win 8–7.
The next day, the Elis’ bats were burning with a vengeance. Yale had a 12–10 victory in the second game with an offensive performance that saw all nine starters in the line-up get at least one hit. The heart of the formation was especially outstanding. Three-hole and left fielder Alec Atkinson ’24 went 3–4, while clean-up hitter and right fielder Jimmy Chatfield ’24 had another enormous day at the plate, homering for the third time this season and driving in five runs.
Despite the Bulldogs’ strong performance on Saturday, the series finale left much to be desired. Yale fell 1–23 against the Lancers, narrowly avoiding a one-sided shut-out after the opposing pitcher walked in a run in the top of the eighth inning. Though LaPlante continued to be a consistent offensive leader on the field, reaching base four times in the game and going 7–22 in the series, CBU was dominant in the rubber match. The Bulldogs were limited to just four total hits compared to the Lancers’ 20, while the Yale pitching staff remained inconsistent. Starting pitcher Colton Shaw ’25 allowed eight runs in just a little over three innings of work.
“It was definitely humbling,” Shaw said about the unfavorable game three outcome. “I knew they were a good hitting team, so I knew I had to come with my best stuff. It just so happened that my best stuff wasn’t there that day. It was humbling because [Yale] hadn’t been in a situation like that before and we were a little shaken up at first, but we definitely moved past as a team and knew what we needed to do, how to plan for next time, [how to flush] it out, and got to the next game.”
The Bulldogs turned things around a few days later as they returned to New Haven and faced off against Quinnipiac on Tuesday, March 22. The Elis were electric against their in-state rival, winning in a blow-out 19–7 victory of their own. The game marked the Bulldogs’ best offensive performance to date, and allowed Yale to remain undefeated at home with a 3–0 record. LaPlante went 4–5, Atkinson went 2–2, third baseman Carson Swank ’23 went 2–5, pinch hitter Jeff Pierantoni ’24 went 2–3 and right fielder Ben Metzner ’23 had a six-RBI game.
Chatfield, a two-way player, showed off his versatility in the game against the Bobcats. He earned his first win as the starting pitcher on Tuesday, throwing three solid innings and allowing only one run. Afterwards, as the designated hitter, he went 2–3 with two RBIs. In an interview with the News, he stated that he “[didn’t] really look at [his offensive performance] as helping [himself],” but rather, as “helping the team … to help put [Yale] in the lead.”
“We are all about family,” Chatfield added. “Whenever we have a chance for everybody to get involved and when you put up 19 runs, everybody has to have a good day, one way or another. We’re just happy that everybody can join in on the party, have a good time, put runs on the board and take good swings.”
The Bulldogs took their momentum from the Quinnipiac game with them as they headed into their three-game Ivy opening series against Princeton. The squad traveled to New Jersey for the team’s first conference series in more than two years. The match-up consisted of a Saturday doubleheader on March 26 and a finale the next day. Yale pummeled Princeton over the weekend, sweeping them with 3–2, 14–8 and 13–6 wins.
The first game of the match-up was competitive from the very beginning, as it started with a pitchers’ duel between Princeton’s junior starter Jackson Emus and Yale’s Michael Walsh ’23. The Eli right-hander from Illinois had an outstanding outing and ultimately came out on top, allowing only one run and throwing a 10-strikeout gem. After five scoreless innings between the opposing starters, the Bulldogs struck first with a two-RBI single from Atkinson and a solo homerun from Chatfield. The Tigers scored two more runs, but were unable to rally against Yale.
“It was an honor for sure,” Walsh said about being able to start in the game. “I was grateful that Coach Stuper and my teammates had the confidence to send me out there. It was my first Ivy League game and it was fun to get conference play because … from a competitive standpoint, everything is just a little bit heightened. To feel that and to come out on top made the [Princeton] weekend even more special.”
Less than an hour after the triumphant Ivy opener, the Bulldogs geared up for the second game of the Saturday doubleheader, which they would win with a slugfest. Chatfield homered for the second time of the day, while Metzner had a three-RBI dinger of his own. Yale was propelled by a seven-run sixth inning and showed off its defensive prowess by ending the game on an impressive 7–4 double-play. Yale ace Grant Kipp ’22 also had a solid outing, striking out nine.
The finale of the series was the cherry on top for the Bulldogs, as they completed the sweep and made history in the process. LaPlante homered to lead-off the game, while pitcher Colton Shaw ’25 redeemed himself after his start against CBU with a strong outing that gave him his first win of the season. The right-hander from Richardson, Texas was sharp on the mound, striking out a career-high eight batters and allowing no walks.
However, the undeniable star of the day was catcher Jake Gehri ’22, who became the first player in Ivy League history to hit four home runs in a conference game, as well as the conference record holder for most RBIs in a single game. Two of the Yale veteran’s home runs were grand slams, contributing to an unprecedented 11-RBI performance at the plate that has received national attention.
“I woke up this morning and it didn’t feel real,” Gehri said. “It was definitely a nice moment, given that I kind of had a slow start to the season. After the first [home run], it was a big weight off of my shoulders … During the second, third and fourth at-bats, I was just trying to have fun and not do too much. Getting into Ivy League play, I was able to hit the reset button.”
Though Gehri’s teammates knew of his high offensive caliber and were unsurprised by his ability to accomplish the Sunday feat, they all expressed awe and pride in regards to the Yale catcher’s big day. Walsh said he felt “shock and pure joy,” while Shaw said he was “blown away.” LaPlante added that the extraordinary nature of the performance “made it really tough to even describe” how one felt viewing it.
The Bulldogs will now look to extend their four-game winning streak in a home match-up against Sacred Heart (2–20, 1–2 NEC) this Wednesday that will start at 3:00 p.m. The Pioneers recently dropped a series against Merrimack College and were swept by St. John’s University. However, Yale has lost its past three match-ups against Sacred Heart and aims to change the narrative.
“Sacred Heart is a good team and [playing the Pioneers] will be a good opportunity for us to get better,” Chatfield, who is slated to be the starting pitcher for the match-up, said. “We also have a big upcoming series this weekend against Cornell, so any time we can use nine innings to get ready for that … to get another win and keep feeling good about ourselves [is great]. Hopefully, I can just go out there, throw strikes and give the team the best chance I can to win.”
In addition to sweeping the Princeton Tigers last weekend, the Bulldogs swept this week’s Ivy League awards, with Gehri, Walsh and Chatfield winning Player of the Week, Pitcher of the Week and Rookie of the Week, respectively.