CORVALLIS, Ore. – With all due respect to the George H.W. Bush led baseball teams of the late 1940s that made it to the finals of the national tournament, today’s victory in the Corvallis NCAA Regional is arguably the greatest in the long history of the Yale program.
The No. 3 seed Bulldogs, who beat No. 2 Nebraska 5-1 to earn a spot in Saturday’s 7 p.m. game against tonight’s game two winner (No. 1 Oregon State vs. No. 4 Holy Cross), are treating the milestone win like the first step in an opportunity to win a regional. Head coach John Stuper, who notched his first NCAA Tournament victory, a school-record 33rd for the Elis this year, does not feel as if they shocked the baseball world today.
“Considering the opponent and circumstances, no doubt our most complete effort this year. To come in here, in a regional, it’s pretty amazing to me… Actually it’s not that amazing,” said Stuper as he looked over at sophomore right handed pitcher Scott Politz. “He’s done it all year. If he’s not an All-American, I don’t know what an All-American is.”
Politz (11-2), a first-team All-Ivy League pick, scattered six hits over a complete-game, six-strikeout masterpiece that will go down as one of the greatest performances ever for a Yale hurler.
Remember Ron Darling’s near extra-inning no-hitter in the 1981 NCAA Regional against St. John’s at Yale Field? This wasn’t as dominating as the former Major League Baseball pitcher’s effort 36 years ago, but this was a very different stage in a very different place.
“We just went after them,” said Politz, who threw 124 pitches and told his skipper after the game that he’s ready for game four of the regional. “I started off with more off-speed because it’s one of my better techniques… Getting ahead with off-speed. I didn’t even know the pitch count. My arm was loose and I wasn’t thinking about nine innings, I was just thinking about three outs.”
The Yale bats were working today as well. Every starter got a hit for a dozen total while center fielder Tim DeGraw, captain Richard Slenker and catcher Andrew Herrera each had a pair.
The Bulldogs were buzzing off the bus. DeGraw led off the game with a single to center on a full count and then Simon Whiteman followed with an infield single. Slenker’s liner to left loaded the bases before Griffin Dey, coming off a four-RBI game last weekend, smashed a one-out single to center that scored a pair.
After giving back one of those runs in the home half of the first, Herrera led off the second by launching a 3-1 fastball over the left field wall and onto the roof of the OSU indoor practice facility to give the Blue a 3-1 lead. Herrera now has three dingers in his last three outings and four overall on the year.
“I saw a pitch up in the zone and put a good swing on it. I knew [it was going out],” said the senior catcher. “I’ve been feeling good. I can’t pick and choose when [the home runs come], but this is a great time for it.”
The Blue was also doing it with the glove. Whiteman, Yale’s sophomore second baseman, stole a single from Cornhusker third baseman Luke Roskam in the second with a diving stop and throw to first. Dey, the Eli sophomore first baseman, used his leather on a diving grab of a liner to end the home fourth. Slenker got in on the glove affair with a gem job in the seventh. He made a diving stop and chuck to get the speedy UN leadoff hitter.
The guys from the Ivy League made it 4-1 in the top of the fourth with a two-out DeGraw single to center that plated Harrison White, who had singled to center and moved over on a sacrifice bunt by Derek Brown. There easily could have been a close play at the plate, but the Cornhuskers’ center fielder double-clutched before making the throw and White didn’t need to slide.
Jake Meyers, the starter pitcher and leadoff hitter for the Big 10 Champions, got two outs in the sixth before giving way to the bullpen. That process was expedited by Brown, who roped a double off the left field wall and then got to third on a ground out with two down in the inning. Yale’s senior left fielder read the play perfectly and broke just in time to beat the tag at third. His hustle play was rewarded when Dai Dai Otaka welcomed the Nebraska reliever with a shot off the pitcher’s leg that went for an infield, RBI single to make it 5-1.
The Elis blanked the No. 25 ranked Cornhuskers over the last eight innings and allowed very few serious, multiple-run threats. Politz struck out No. 4 hitter Ben Miller with a 2-2 cutter in the fifth with a runner in scoring position. In the sixth he got Mojo Hagge swinging with two ducks on the pond to end the frame.
But they still had the final three outs to deal with in the bottom of the ninth as the 100 or so Yale fans – and the guys in the dugout – began to anticipate the accomplishment and bring the noise level up a few notches. Politz struck out Roskram with a changeup, got Hagge to ground into a 4-3 and then got Meyers with a 2-2 slider.
“He (Politz) started out [throwing] cute before we decided to go right at them,” said Herrera. “He is such a Bulldog, such a hard-worker out there.”
Yale’s last NCAA Tournament win was in 1992 against Nicholls State at Starkville, Miss. The last NCAA Regional appearance was in 1993 at College Station, Texas.
“The win means a lot to us,” said Slenker, who had pair of great plays at third base. “We have gotten better as the season goes along. We knew we could do it and we had all the pieces. We are pumped to be here, and that’s exactly type of game we want to play.”
Luis Alvarado had two hits for the Cornhuskers and drove in their run. His head coach, Darin Erstad, was impressed with the Yale hurler.
“We had no answer for his cutter,” said Erstad. We pretty much got carved up. I can’t remember the last time we got out-competed, and it stings me to say that we got out-competed today.”
Slenker increased his current hit streak to six games… Game one of the Corvallis regional, played under bright sunshine and 72 degrees, had a big crowd (maybe 45 percent capacity) for a week day 1 pm contest. Tonight’s OSU-Holy Cross game has been sold out for a while… The game featured a pair of former big league players serving as head coaches: Darin Erstad (6th season at Nebraska) and 25th-year Yale head coach John Stuper… Yale wore its Under Armour gray Legends Series uniforms with blue hats and socks… This was the first game against Nebraska, the first game in the state of Oregon and the latest (in the year) post-season game for the Bulldogs since 1948, the team’s last appearance at the College World Series… OSU classes are still in session, so everyone here is getting to see a 31,000-student campus in action… As the bus drove past an on-campus fraternity with a group of students lounging on its porch, one of the guys ceremoniously gave us the finger. Not a true Corvallis welcome by any means, the people here are very friendly.
By Steve Conn, Yale Associate AD & Sports Publicity Director – firstname.lastname@example.org