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2019 Outlook: Defending Ivy Champs Look to Continue Success

Simon Whiteman, Yale's 2019 captain. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)
Simon Whiteman, Yale's 2019 captain. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Coming off another Ivy League Championship season, the Yale baseball team has its sights set high in 2019. 

The Bulldogs have played in the Ivy League Championship Series in each of the last three seasons. They finished 2018 at 22-21 overall and 15-6 in Ivy league play, leading the nation in fielding percentage (.985). Those 15 conference wins were the most among Ivy League teams, giving Yale back-to-back Ivy League crowns. However, Columbia took the best-of-three Ivy League Championship Series in two games, earning a trip to the NCAA Tournament and co-possession of the Ivy League title.

This year, the Bulldogs are poised to challenge for a spot at the top of the Ivy League standings again. Coach John Stuper is returning for his 27th season with the team, and the Bulldogs also have four returning 2018 All-Ivy players. Yale topped the Ivy League 2019 Baseball Preseason Poll, receiving 11 of 16 first-place votes. Baseball America also dubbed the Bulldogs as the "Team to Beat" in the conference.

The confidence in this year's team is shared by Yale's coaches and players. Captain Simon Whiteman expressed his excitement about the 2019 Bulldogs, but also stressed that the team's talent and potential should not overshadow the work ahead: "We've got very high expectations for this team. Last year's ending still feels like unfinished business for returning players — and we have an extraordinary amount of talent, both veteran and newcomer alike. With that being said, by no means are we at our peak performance right now. We have a lot of work to put in. But we're confident in our potential this year." 

Here is a class-by-class breakdown of the 2019 Bulldogs:

 

Seniors

This year's seniors feature three All-Ivy selections and one All-New England selection from last year. Whiteman (second team All-Ivy) enjoyed another incredibly successful season at the plate and in the infield last year. Batting primarily out of the two-hole, Whiteman hit .298 and had a .354 OBP. He led the team in hits (53), and his 31 RBI and nine stolen bases were second on the team. Outfielder Tim DeGraw led the team in stolen bases (11), and also led the team with 38 runs. The team's everyday leadoff hitter, DeGraw also had 11 multi-hit games. First baseman Griffin Dey led the team in RBI with 35, and also had a team-high seven home runs. Dey's final slash line of .306/.381/.476 earned him 2018 NEIBA Division I All-New England First Team honors and 2018 ABCA/Rawlings NCAA Division I Northeast All-Region Second Team honors. Dey also made seven pitching appearances, striking out 12 in 13.2 innings. Benny Wanger, like Dey, also found success both on the mound and at the plate in 2018: he received first team All-Ivy honors as a pitcher and second team All-Ivy honors as a first baseman. Wanger finished with three home runs and 10 doubles, and also pitched to a 0.90 ERA and 9.10 K/9 across 30 innings. After completing five scoreless innings in the ILCS, Wanger currently holds a 24 innings scoreless streak against Ivy League opponents.

Scott Politz was also recognized with first team All-Ivy honors as a pitcher. The righty posted a career-best 3.07 ERA in 88.0 innings in 2018, striking out 64. Labeled by Baseball America as the Ivy League's "Pitcher of the Year" for 2019, Politz finished last season with five wins, and currently needs six more wins to tie Yale's all-time career leader (Frank Quinn '48, 28). Lefty Kumar Nambiar also finished with five wins last season, making 11 starts and racking up an impressive 58 strikeouts through 57.1 innings. The Bulldogs will be relying on Politz and Nambiar to make many of their weekend game starts. After making five appearances this past year, lefty Sam Boies will look to play a bigger role out of the bullpen for the Bulldogs this year.

The Bulldogs rotated frequently behind the dish last year, and Tom Fuller made the most of his playing time. Fuller recorded three multi-hit games in just 21 appearances.

Juniors

The junior class gives the Bulldogs great pitching depth. Alex Stiegler made 10 appearances on the mound, posting a 3.38 ERA through 18.2 innings. Stiegler also served as the Bulldogs' primary third baseman, mashing three home runs and recording 25 RBI through 169 at-bats. Righty Bobby Cecere was invaluable to the Bulldogs down the stretch, making 13 relief appearances throughout the year. Cecere recorded a 2.16 ERA in 16.2 innings. Lefty Thomas Espig allowed just nine hits through 10.2 innings and also pitched one scoreless inning against Columbia in the ILCS. Righty Tyler Sapsford made 15 relief appearances and one start, allowing only 20 hits in 19.2 innings. After missing his first season due to injury, righty Justin Ager pitched four innings in 2018, recording two strikeouts during his lone start of the year.

In the field, outfielder Brian Ronai recorded five doubles last season, hitting .264 across 30 games. Dai Dai Otaka provided the Bulldogs incredibly reliable defense last year: the sure-handed middle infielder made only three errors in 24 games.

Sophomores

The sophomore class features position players vying for everyday lineup spots and pitchers seeking to expand their roles. Outfielder Teddy Hague had a successful first-year season and was recognized with an All-Ivy Honorable Mention. Hague was an on-base machine in his 109 plate appearances, posting a .330/.410/.451 slash line and also hitting two home runs. He led the Bulldogs in batting average and hit .349 in Ivy games. Hague also went four for seven in the ILCS. Fellow outfielder Harry Hegeman also proved to be an offensive weapon for the Bulldogs. In 38 games, Hegeman hit .260 with a .375 OBP. Catcher Cal Christofori logged 22 games behind the plate last season, a number that is sure to increase this season. Christofori got on base at a .343 clip while also recording five doubles. He hit .375 in 13 Ivy League games. Infielders Jonathan Boulaphinh and Cole Shelton saw limited action on the field during their first season, but will look to increase their playing time during their sophomore season.

On the mound, righty Jackson Bandow and lefty Matthew Erickson are looking to take on more innings this year. The two sophomores combined to make five appearances last year.

First Years

The Bulldogs' first-year class features seven student-athletes from around the country. Infielder Mason LaPlante was a four-year starter at Allen High School, the largest high school in the state of Texas. He was a two-time District 6-6A Defensive MVP, and also won Team MVP his senior year. Fellow Texan Grant Kipp posted incredible numbers at Highland Park High School in Dallas. In two years on the varsity team, the righty pitched to a 1.13 ERA and whiffed 123 batters. In addition to Kipp, the Bulldogs are welcoming two other right-handed pitchers: Quinn Cleary and Ben Gibbs. Cleary pitched for St. George's School (Newton, Mass.), striking out 45 in 50.1 innings pitched as a senior. Gibbs, a GDC All-State righty from Bonaire, Ga., set the Veterans High School record for single-season wins and career wins. The Bulldogs will also have a new lefty on the mound in Rohan Handa. The southpaw will also play first base, but he excelled especially as a pitcher in high school. In 11 starts for the South Charlotte Panthers travel team in 2017, Handa went 8-1 with a 0.55 ERA.

Pierce Blohowiak played six different positions at Xavier High School in Appleton, Wisc., and was a three-time All-Conference Team selection. Blohowiak will also add much-needed speed to the Bulldogs roster: in his senior year of high school, he broke the school's all-time record in the 100-meter dash. The Bulldogs are also adding depth behind the plate in Jake Gehri. Gehri was named his league's MVP as a senior and was also named as the 2018 USA Today All-Washington first team catcher.

 

The Bulldogs have incredible potential this year: they have added talented players to the roster, and still have many of the players that brought them to the NCAA Corvallis Regional Final just two years ago. 

Yale will open the season at New Mexico State on Friday. The Bulldogs' first home game is scheduled for Mar. 6 against UConn.