Baseball looks for Ivy championship

by Gayne Kalustian | 3/27/14 4:55pm

by Masanosuke Kondo / The Dartmouth

The six-time defending Red Rolfe Division champion baseball team starts Ivy League play this weekend. Co-captain Jeff Keller ’14 called the team feisty, competitive and relentless — in prime position to return to the Ivy Championship Series.

“I feel better about this team than the other three,” he said. “The other three have been great, and last year’s chemistry was fantastic, but I honestly have a better feeling as far as chemistry and competitiveness and the intangibles.”

With the next month dedicated to the grueling League schedule of back-to-back weekend double headers, the team is looking for one thing and one thing only: an Ivy League Championship.

“It would be a disservice to the players if we thought about any objective other than to win a championship every year,” head coach Bob Whalen said.

Dartmouth (3-9) opens Ivy play this week against Cornell University, which sits atop the Ivy League’s Lou Gehrig Division, with a 7-7 record. Before taking on Sacred Heart University, which handed the Big Red four losses, Cornell scored 76 runs in 10 games. The apparently potent offense, however, was shut out in the first game against Sacred Heart, which put star pitcher Kody Kerski on the mound for most of the game. Kerski allowed just four hits against 29 at bats, leaving Cornell scoreless.

The Big Green is taking preseason results in stride without putting too much weight on early results, Ryan Toimil ’14 said. Teams’ performances before Ivy play is not necessarily indicative of how they will fare, he said.

The defending champion Columbia Lions sit at the bottom of the Gehrig Division with a 5-12 record, after tough competition over the break, including No. 15 University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University.

Among Ivy League schools, Dartmouth has one of the lowest win percentages at .250 early in the season. The Big Green is ahead of only Harvard University, which will open Ivy play with a 4-13 record. The Big Green, however, took on one of the toughest preseason schedules, with three of its four opponents — Florida International University, Texas Christian University and the University of Kansas — ranked at one point this season in the top-30 NCAA Division I baseball teams.

The strength of Dartmouth’s preseason opponents, co-captain Dustin Selzer ’14 said, is just one of many reasons the team is confident about its chances this year in the Ivy League.

“I think having faced these great arms from Kansas, TCU and FIU really got us ready for the guys we’re going to face this weekend,” he said. “Cornell and Princeton have great arms, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen.”

The four seniors on the team have made it to the Championship every year they’ve worn the green and white, but have left each time without the League title. Dartmouth lost last year to the Lions (5-12) who return both starting pitchers from the Championship series, seniors Joey Donino and David Speer. The three-time runners up, Louis Concato ’14 said, are hungry for the win.

The team has strived to win the Ivy Championship since his freshman year, he said.

“We’ve come extremely close every year, so we’re just trying to relay that message to the freshmen, especially keeping in mind that we know what it’s like to lose in the Championship,” he said.

The lineup includes a mix of new talent and veteran experience, a point of unique bonding for the players, Toimil said.

Freshmen Michael Ketchmark ’17 and Mike Concato ’17 have both seen significant playing time. Mike Concato made his college debut in the Big Green’s last game against Kansas, in which he allowed only two runs in eight innings. The pitching performance, Whalen said, proved Dartmouth’s ability to fill the void created by the loss of four members of last season’s rotation.

“Mike Concato threw as good of a game as any player all year,” Whalen said. “That was certainly against the best offensive team we’ll see all year.”

With its midweek game against Siena College cancelled due to unfavorable weather conditions, Dartmouth will start League play coming off of the extra-inning win against Kansas 3-2 last Sunday.

Last season, the Big Green tallied a program record 32 wins but still fell short of the ultimate prize of an Ivy championship.

“I think we know how good we can be, and I think we know you can’t just show up and win,” Keller said. “The Ivy League is very balanced. I’ve lost to and beaten every team. You don’t just dominate a team and you’re done. Going back to the intangibles, I think everyone realizes that we’re no different than any other team, but we have as much talent and experience as everyone and we have the ability to win as much as anyone else.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction appended: March 28, 2014

The initial version of this article misidentified the No. 15 baseball team played by the Columbia University Lions. It was the University of Texas at Austin, not the University of Texas at San Antonio.