Yale Opens at Virginia Tech Before Heading to Florida for RussMatt Invitational
NEW HAVEN, Conn. — The Yale University baseball team entered the final weekend of the 2011 season with a chance to win the Ivy League's Red Rolfe Division and advance to the Ivy League's best-of-three championship series.
Unfortunately, Brown's pitching staff prevented the Bulldogs from reaching the summit of the division. However, the Bulldogs return for the 2012 season retooled and ready to challenge for the Rolfe Division crown again.
While 10 seniors are gone from last year's team, including four starting position players and the team's top two starting pitchers, the influx of young talent from a class of seven freshmen will keep the Bulldogs among the top teams in the Ivy League. That class of freshmen includes pitcher Ben Joseph, who was listed as the No. 2 Top Newcomer in the Ivy League by Baseball America.
Yale, which finished last season 23-19 overall and 11-9 in Ivy League play, begins the 2012 season with a four-game slate at Virginia Tech starting with a doubleheader on Saturday, followed by nine-inning affairs on Sunday and Monday. From there, the Bulldogs will head to Winter Haven, Fla., where they will play seven games in the RussMatt Invitational.
Following their return home from Florida, the Bulldogs will take on a host of local opponents, from Stony Brook to in-state rivals UConn, Hartford, Quinnipiac and Sacred Heart. Yale opens the home schedule on March 17, when it hosts Stony Brook for a doubleheader at historic Yale Field.
The Ivy League season begins on March 31 when the Bulldogs pay a visit to Columbia. In the race for the Rolfe Division crown, the key weekend will be April 21-22, when Yale travels to Hanover, N.H., to take on the defending division champion Dartmouth for a four-game set. The results that weekend could go a long way in deciding which team will come out on top at the end of the season.
Here is a look at the 2012 Bulldogs:
After Brenner, the infield is very young, with a freshman second baseman in David Toups, two sophomores at shortstop (Jacob Hunter) and first base (Kevin Fortunato), and a junior in Chris Piwinski who was the backup catcher last season but is moving to third base in 2012. Freshman Robert Baldwin will also see time at first base when Fortunato is called into duty as the team's closing pitcher.
Despite the lack of experience, Yale coach John Stuper has great confidence in his infield.
"David Toups is a tough out and has improved every day on his defense," Stuper said. "Jacob Hunter, our shortstop last year, has made a big jump from last year, which is saying something because he hit .300 as a freshman. Kevin Fortunato has power potential through the roof, and Chris Piwinski has turned into a very good third baseman. He has a strong arm."
Five different players will take turns manning the corners of the outfield. Junior Cam Squires is the team's top stolen base threat and will see time in left field. He hit .313 last year with nine stolen bases in 11 attempts and five bunt singles.
Junior Josh Scharff will be the Bulldogs' primary designated hitter, but he will also see time in the outfield. Scharff was the MVP of the City Series, Yale's fall exhibition series that included games against Quinnipiac, University of New Haven and Southern Connecticut. Scharff went 4-for-8 in the series with a home run and five RBIs to earn the MVP award. He hit .282 in 2011 and led the team in triples (2).
Senior Charlie Neil will start in right field. He is a switch hitter who shown a lot of improvement in the winter preparations in the weeks leading up to the spring trip. While he hit .218 last year, his improvement this winter had Stuper believing he will be one of the team's top run producers in 2012.
"Green Campbell is one of our most versatile players. He can play infield or outfield, but his best position may be on the mound. Joe Lubanski has really shown the coaches quite a bit in a short amount of time. He has a good eye and will be a tough out," Stuper said.
"Eric Hsieh has excellent command of three pitches and a very good pitching aptitude," Stuper said. "Chris O'Hare was 5-1 last year and looks even better this year. His velocity has gone up and his command has improved. We are looking for big things out of him. Pat Ludwig will be in the rotation for the fourth straight year. He has added a change-up and that could make a huge difference. We are expecting a big year from him. He went 4-1 in the league last year. Rob Cerfolio got a lot of experience last year and is ready for the jump into the rotation. He has had a great February. Meanwhile, Ben Joseph is a hard-throwing freshman. He has as many weapons as anyone on the staff. He will be in the rotation at some point this year."
The bullpen will be anchored by Fortunato, who will serve as the team's closer. Stuper will count on senior right-hander Greg Lyons, senior right-hander Eric Shultz, and sophomore right-hander Michael Coleman to serve as the bridge to Fortunato in the later innings. Sophomore lefty David Hickey and freshman left-hander Nate O'Leary will also come out of the bullpen for the Bulldogs. Fortunato had the lowest opposing batting average of any pitcher on the staff in 2011 and Shultz led the team in saves (3).
"Greg Lyons is a senior who simply knows how to pitch," Stuper said. "We will call on him to pitch the most important innings out of the bullpen. Eric Shultz is a huge part of our bullpen scheme. He has been throwing extremely well and may close if needed. David Hickey has been outstanding this February. He throws three pitches for strikes and he has increased his velocity. He is equally effective against lefties and righties. Kevin Fortunato will close for us. Teams hit .133 off of him last year."
All in all, the signs are pointing towards a bright spring season for the Yale baseball team.