Baseball: Big Green Bats Blaze

by Sammy Kardon | 5/3/02 5:00am

Don't look now, but the Dartmouth baseball team has quietly heated up.

After a frustrating 3-7 start in the Ivy League seemed to have all but precluded any chance the Big Green had to return to the Ivy championship series for the third year in a row, the team has gone 4-2 in its last six Ancient Eight contests to move to 7-9.

Dartmouth has positioned itself to tie for first in the Red Rolfe division if it can sweep four games in the regular season finale this weekend from division-leading Harvard, while Yale takes at least three of four from second-place Brown.

That's still a big if, but the chances are nowhere near as slim as they were two weeks ago.

"It's a long shot, but we absolutely can do it," senior co-captain Matt Klentak said.

Last-place Yale is still the wild card, holding Dartmouth's fate in its hands, but the revamped Big Green men are as capable of fulfilling their part of the bargain as Klentak makes them out to be.

The resurgence has resulted from two main factors: strong starting pitching and clutch, late-inning hitting. The bottom line is that the team is finally finding ways to win, as opposed to ways to lose; hopefully, it is not to late to translate the reversal into a post-season berth.

Both quality pitching and strength down the stretch were exhibited fully in Wednesday's sweep of a make-up doubleheader against Yale at Red Rolfe. The pair of wins raised the Big Green's overall record to 19-18, its first time over .500 since March.

In the first game, righty Pat Dowling '04 had one of the best outings by a Big Green starter all year, continuing the form that has led him to be fifth in the Ivies in ERA with a 3.47.

"Pat went out and threw a gem," co-captain John Velosky '02, the team's ace, said. "He established the inside part of the plate early and never looked back."

The resultant line is indicative of how well he threw: seven innings, four hits, one run and four strikeouts.

Aside from the fourth, when he gave up all four of the hits and the only run, Dowling's second complete game of the year -- which raised his record to 3-3 -- was almost perfect.

The well-balanced offense in the 6-1 victory was led by Chris Grimm '05 and Eddie Lucas '04, who each went 2 for 3 with two and one RBIs respectively.

The good starting performance was part of a trend, though. On Saturday, Velosky threw a complete game without allowing an earned run and freshman Andrew Brown pitched four no-hit, scoreless innings.

Despite its relatively disappointing record and some bouts of inconsistency, Dartmouth's pitching has been good all year. The Big Green staff is tops in the Ivies with a 4.66 ERA.

In the nightcap on Wednesday, the pitching was once more spectacular, but it was timely hitting that stole the show.

After Larry Fey '02, Nick Peay '05 and Velosky combined to pitch nine innings of shut-out ball, pinch-hitting Jeff Speights '05 came up huge in the bottom of the ninth. The tall righty stroked a single to score Lucas from second with one out to end the pitcher's duel in a 1-0 Dartmouth victory.

"It was a hanging curveball and all I was trying to do was hit it hard," the 6'4" catcher explained. "Fortunately, I put a good swing on it."

Speights had also come up with a key hit in Saturday's 5-4 loss to Yale, a two-RBI double during another ninth-inning rally that came up one agonizing run short.

"Jeff has been great recently," Klentak said. "It's nice to see him gaining confidence because we all know that he has the capability to be a premier hitter in this league."

Speights is only hitting .224 on the season, but he has made his 17 hits count, producing 15 RBIs.

He is not the only one coming up big in the late innings of late, though. In Tuesday's 9-8 win over Boston College, Grimm had a game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the ninth. In Saturday's nightcap, Derek Draper '02 capped off a four-run comeback in the eighth and ninth with a dramatic walk-off homer in the tenth for a 7-6 victory. Last Wednesday, Jason DaCosta '03 completed a two-run, ninth-inning comeback with an RBI hit down the left-field line to secure a 6-5 win.

Recently, the Big Green has been thriving under late-inning pressure. The line-up seems to come alive when the game is on the line.

"I'm not exactly sure why we seem to display our offensive energy only at the end of games," Klentak said. "But I think it really says a lot about the heart and determination of this team."

"There were a lot of times this year when it would have been easy to roll over and give up, but this team keeps coming back and refuses to accept anything less than 100 percent effort."

Truly, with its back against the wall, the team has experienced a late-season renaissance that has shown just how good it can be.

The focus is now on the four-game series with the Crimson: two in Cambridge on Saturday at noon and two at Red Rolfe on Sunday at noon. The Big Green is certainly riding the highest and strongest wave it has been on all year, and, if the Bears can come through, it could be a very memorable end to the season.

"We know we've had our struggles so far," Velosky said, "but to win a tight game against a quality pitcher is a big momentum builder for the weekend. We know we're going to see some nasty pitching from Harvard, but games like Wednesday's make us confident that we can match them game for game."

The games will be hard-fought ones for certain, but even if Harvard puts up too much of a fight or Yale cannot deliver and the season ends on Sunday, at the very least the Big Green has proven that it could play in these last few weeks.

While this year's team certainly won't go down as the juggernaut of the past two seasons, the strong finish has proven that the 2002 incarnation was a pretty darn good one, even if its record wasn't superlative.