Baseball: America’s pastoral pastime. It’s the only team game without a clock; the sport where, as Yogi Berra wisely noted, “It ain’t over… ‘til it’s over!”
Ivy League schools have been playing baseball for a century and a half, long before the establishment of the league itself. This year’s Ivy League champion Yale Bulldogs played their first intercollegiate baseball game against Wesleyan in 1865, the year the Civil War ended. This year, they won the championship by sweeping Penn in two games, earning them an automatic bid to represent the Ivy League at the NCAA’s 64-team regional playoffs and, if successful there, go on to the College World Series in Omaha this June.
In last year’s league championship series, the Bulldogs slunk off Princeton’s home field following a Tigers win on a wild pitch that allowed the winning run to score in the bottom of the ninth. That devastating outcome in the final game extended Yale’s championship shutout to its 23rd consecutive year.
The Ivy League is divided into two divisions for baseball, both named after Ivy League graduates who went on to great fame in baseball’s major leagues — Red Rolfe of Dartmouth and Lou Gehrig of Columbia. The Rolfe Division is comprised of Yale, Dartmouth, Harvard, and Brown and the Gehrig Division includes Columbia, Penn, Cornell, and Princeton.
Penn, having finished atop the Gehrig Division in 2017 by defeating Columbia in a postseason game necessitated by their tying 12-8 records, was Yale’s opponent in this year’s championship series. Yale had taken the Rolfe Division title outright with a 16-4 regular season record.
Yale won the series opener on Tuesday, May 16, in New Haven by a score of 5-0 behind a complete-game shutout by sophomore Scott Politz. However, in the second game of the doubleheader, the shade of 2016 threatened to fall again on the Bulldogs. In Game 2, Yale scored early and often to take a seemingly unassailable 11-run lead into the bottom of the fifth, but Penn clawed its way back into the game with three runs in the fifth, two in the seventh, and two more in the eighth.
Penn loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and had the tying run at the plate. The home faithful at Yale Field, who had seen their huge lead ebb to 4, held their collective breath. With the top of the Penn batting order poised to extend the series to a third and deciding game, sophomore Griffin Dey came on in relief to close for Yale.
Dey struck out the Quaker’s leadoff man with a convincing breaking ball on a 1–2 count that ended up well out of the strike zone, but it was too tempting for Mike Adams to lay off. He swung meekly and missed, leaving the final tally at Yale 11 – Penn 7. The joyful Bulldogs and their fans stormed the field to celebrate Yale’s first Ivy League title since 1994.
In the NCAA baseball tournament, there are 16 regional contests hosted by the highest-seeded team in each region, with four teams in each regional playoff. The Bulldogs will find out on May 29 which college team will be their regional host and who will be their first opponent. The current projection from Baseball America has the Eli’s traveling to Stanford.
After the regionals, the entire tournament then moves to Omaha, as has been the case every year since 1960. The eight region-winning teams are then split into two 4-team, double-elimination brackets with the winners of the two brackets playing in a best-of-three finale to determine the NCAA Division I baseball champions. Yale has never won the College World Series, but has been the runner-up twice.
After winning the Ivy League Championship on May 16, it was announced on May 18 by the Ivy League athletic directors that Yale’s baseball team had eight all-Ivy League players and that their head coach, John Stuper, was the Ivy League Coach of the Year. Yale starting pitcher Scott Politz and designated hitter Benny Wanger were both first team All-Ivy honorees. Wanger was a unanimous selection. Coach Stuper says of Politz that he has the potential to be another Ron Darling, high praise indeed if you recall the Yale alumnus and Mets pitching star of the 1980’s.
Griffin Dey, an all-Ivy second team selection, went 4-0 as the team’s closer with a 0.75 ERA in six appearances. Batters hit a paltry .108 against him. He was also commanding defensively as a first baseman with a perfect fielding percentage of 1.000. He led the Bulldogs in home runs with 10.
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