Baseball runs itself out of a comeback in home opener
As the sun set and the shadow of the Memorial Field bleachers crept over the Red Rolfe Field diamond, the Dartmouth baseball team saw a good opportunity to beat a tough Vermont team creep away as well. Despite leading 7-2 after five and loading the bases in the bottom of the ninth, the Big Green fell 9-8 to the Catamounts to drop to 9-12 (1-3 Ivy) on the season in its home-opener.
"In mid-week games," coach Bob Whalen said, "anything can happen because you're not pitching your front-line guys, for both teams. And that's just the way it goes, so you can have swings like that. We still shouldn't get two outs and nobody on and give up four runs in an inning. We have to be a little bit better than that."
Those four runs came in the sixth inning, and they certainly shifted the momentum of the game out of the Green's hand for the first time all afternoon.
Dartmouth, coming off a double-header split at Cornell on Monday in which it finally got its recently anemic offense into gear with an 11-spot in the night cap, started the game with a bang.
After Jason DaCosta '03 led off with a single, No. 3 hitter Scott Shirrell '04 got around on one and knocked it out of the park, his first dinger of the year, to put Dartmouth on top quickly, 2-0.
UVM used a few hits and a passed ball to even the score in the second off freshman Michael Madson, but the top of the Big Green order came back in the third with three more.
After Cooper Chapin '04 singled up the middle and Shirrell was beaned in the shoulder, Mike Mileusnic '03 moved the runners over for third baseman Eddie Lucas '04.
With two strikes on him, Lucas hit another ground-ball single up the middle to score two more. He came around to give Dartmouth a 5-2 lead on senior Derek Draper's hard rope to left center, but the inning ended when the designated hitter came up short trying to stretch it into a triple.
Although they stole two bases in the game, poor base-running decisions like that one (one should never make the third out of an inning at third base) would come back to haunt the Big Green hitters later in the game.
"I told them I wanted them to take more chances" on the base paths, Whalen said, "but it's one thing to put pressure on the defense, and it's another thing to run yourself out of an inning."
The same thing happened to Draper again in the fifth when he was nailed at third again to end the inning after his hard grounder down the first- base line scored Shirrell and Lucas.
At this point, Dartmouth had a 7-2 lead, and Brian Gattis '04, having retired the first five batters he faced in relief of Madson, looked good on the mound. Suddenly, things took a turn for the worse.
A single and a walk with two outs in the top of the sixth brought Whalen to the mound to calm Gattis down, but he left one up in the zone to Derek Root who pounded it over DaCosta's head to the deepest part of center for a two-RBI triple.
Senior Mike Brown relieved Gattis, but he immediately let up another three-bagger that hit off the center field wall. A Texas-leaguer brought in the man from third before Brown and the rest of the Green defense could end the inning, but the game had taken on a new tone with Dartmouth's lead cut to one run.
A Brown wild pitch and a sac fly gave the Catamounts a one-run lead in the next inning, leaving Brown with the loss to fall to 0-1 on the year despite being second on the team with a 2.70 ERA.
In the bottom of the seventh, Dartmouth had the top of the order up again and looked to jump back ahead after DaCosta singled and went to second on a Chapin sacrifice bunt. Shirrell moved him to third with a ground out, but a four-pitch walk to Mileusnic and a pop out by Lucas stranded him there.
After Vermont scratched out an insurance run in the top half of the eighth off Bryn Alderson '03, Dartmouth got a runner on again in the bottom half when Draper led off with his third double of the game. The senior went 3 for 4 on the day with three RBIs, joining Lucas, who went 2 for 5, for the game-high production totals.
Unfortunately, Draper never even got to third, and after Alderson smoked through the Catamounts in the ninth, it was back to the top of the order for the Big Green's last licks.
After DaCosta lost a hard-fought at-bat, striking out looking on a 3-2 pitch, Chapin wrapped a ground ball under the lunging second baseman to give himself a single and his team hope with the two big guns, Shirrell (19 RBIs) and Mileusnic (20 RBIs), waiting on deck.
Shirrell hit a slow roller in front of second and, hustling down the line, appeared to have it beaten out. The umpire called him out, much to the chagrin of the Hanover faithful, and Whalen's protest could do nothing to dissuade him.
"I'm a lot further away from the play than our first-base coach is," Whalen explained, "but he indicated to me that our kid was safe. When your whole body's on the outfield side of the bag it's hard to miss that. But that's not the point, the point is that umpires don't win or lose games. We need to be better than that."
Truly, the inning did not die there and the Big Green had several other chances to win that it just could not convert.
Mileusnic walked on four pitches for the second straight at-bat allowing the right-handed Lucas to pull a low line-hugger that scored Chapin from second, sent Mileusnic to third and brought his team to within one with two runners in scoring position.
The drama built as the Catamounts chose to intentionally walk Draper with two outs to load the bases for pinch-hitter Tom Hackney '03. The stage was set for the completion of a rousing storybook comeback, but Hackney left his bat on his shoulder as he watched strike three go by, giving the Catamounts a hard-fought 9-8 win that easily could have gone Dartmouth's way.
Despite 14 hits, four walks and several impressive innings, Dartmouth's offense left eight men on base and came up a little short. It was still a good effort, though, and the eight-run output leaves room for optimism about this weekend's two home Ivy doubleheaders, against Penn and Columbia. Both of those sets start at noon at Red Rolfe Field on Saturday and Sunday respectively.