Green Get Going In Late Season Rally for Top

by John Riccio | 5/3/02 5:00am

As John Belushi so demonstratively states in "Animal House", "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." This motto could have been the new battle cry of the Big Green baseball team during the past week's slew of home games.

With their backs against the wall, the Big Green men triumphed in four out of five games this past week while displaying a determination and perseverance not shown yet this season. While the pitching has remained relatively consistent all season long, the hitting and defense have often times been shaky. The biggest problem with the hitting has not been the output itself but the fact that Dartmouth has not gotten timely hitting.

Dartmouth's 1-0 win over Yale on Wednesday demonstrated how far Dartmouth has come in improving these two areas and how much, in turn, this improvement has led to some dramatic results. The question is, is it too late?

Dartmouth has been earning victories by attrition recently, outlasting its opponents by scoring runs in the bottom half of the ninth inning in three of the last five games. Two of those games were come-from-behind victories over Yale and Boston College, the Northeast's highest-ranked team.

Obviously, the Big Green has stepped up its game a bit of late. More interesting, however, is the way in which this transformation has occurred -- primarily with clutch hitting and nearly flawless fielding.

Both of these traits were on display Wednesday when Dartmouth narrowly edged Yale 1-0 to complete the four-game series. Normally known for his hitting prowess, sophomore Scott Shirrell made two dazzling plays in left field. On two similar plays, Shirrell fielded a base hit and threw to third base to throw out a Yale runner attempting to advance from first to third on the single.

Both plays were close, and third baseman Eddie Lucas craftily scooped the ball out of the dirt on both throws. Had he not assisted on the plays, Yale would have had runners on the corners with fewer than two outs in both the third and fifth innings, respectively.

Shirrell's play in the fifth inning helped vindicate a questionable decision by manager Bob Whalen to remove pitcher Larry Fey from the game after he had thrown four scoreless innings. After this important out, Fey's replacement, Nicholas Peay '05, never faced another viable scoring threat over the course of the next four innings.

In addition to Shirrell's fielding excellence, freshman catcher Brian Zurhellen exhibited a fortitude and will to win behind the plate. Zurhellen was all over the field throughout the game as he threw out two Yale runners attempting to steal second base.

More impressive, however, was his near catch from behind home plate in the top of the seventh inning. On a high foul ball, Zurhellen chased the ball to the backstop, reached over the fence adjacent to Yale's dugout, and snared a ball that popped out of his mitt only as he fell over the fence and flipped over. His effort displayed the kind of grit, hustle and determination showcased by the Dartmouth team throughout the afternoon.

Earlier this season the Big Green suffered from an inability to get key hits in pivotal situations. The ability to produce runs down the stretch was a major characteristic of the team that has made it to the Ivy League championship series in each of the past two seasons. This ability, however, was clearly lacking during losses to Columbia in close games at home.

With its season ostensibly over, however, Dartmouth responded with hard-nosed, comeback victories against Yale and then Boston College. In the nightcap of last Saturday's doubleheader, Cooper Chapin '04 singled home Mike Mileusnic '03 in the bottom half of the ninth inning to tie the game.

Chapin's line-drive, infield single cracked the Yale pitcher in the back and rolled along the third base line as Mileusnic safely trotted home. The Yale hurler was hit so hard he had to be removed from the game.

It wasn't until the bottom of the 10th, however, when Derek Draper's solo shot sailed over the right field fence to give Dartmouth the gutsy victory (the team had once trailed 6-2). Against BC, Chris Grimm's ninth inning RBI single capped off a comeback victory (Dartmouth had been behind 6-1 after four innings).

Wednesday's game was the fourth time in five games that the Big Green had won in its final at bat. These are the kinds of performances that help a young team gain confidence for future close games. The games Dartmouth was losing earlier in the season are the same kinds of games in which they have been prevailing of late.

Unfortunately, with only a week left in the season, it is unlikely that the Big Green can mount a monumental comeback to win the Red Rolfe Division. A four-game sweep of Harvard (no easy task for sure) this weekend might put Dartmouth in a position to compete for the title.

At worst, however, Dartmouth has put itself in a position to finish off the season with very respectable overall and Ivy records. The momentum built in the later stages of this season could translate into a quick start next season, which is what Dartmouth will need to compete with Harvard and Brown.

The Big Green is not a laughingstock anymore. Strong defense and timely hitting will prove necessary for Dartmouth should it stage a run for the Ivy League title next campaign. If this past week is any indication, Dartmouth may not "get going" just yet.