Baseball heads to Ivy Champ. Series

by Gayne Kalustian | 5/8/14 3:11pm

by Jin Lee / The Dartmouth

Dartmouth and Columbia University emerged from the carnage of an all-out battle for the Red Rolfe and Lou Gehrig Division titles last weekend, ending one of the most dramatic regular seasons Ivy League baseball has seen in years. Both teams rallied from second place deficits forged in early season play to come back and take their divisions in one-game playoffs against surprise Division competitors, Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania. This sets up a rematch of last year’s series, which the Lions won.

This will be the teams’ fourth championship meeting since 2008. In the series, the Lions stand 2-1 against the Big Green.

Dartmouth (18-19, 11-9 Ivy) put itself in a deep hole earlier this season after dropping both games in the first doubleheader against Brown University, but answered the call for a perfect finish, winning its last eight games — seven against conference opponents.

The Lions (25-17, 15-5 Ivy) quickly fell three games behind the Quakers, who scorched out of the gates to an 8-0 Ivy record. Columbia salvaged its chances with sweeps of both Princeton University and Cornell University before splitting the doubleheaders against Penn. The Lions stifled the Quakers’ offense in the 4-0 playoff shutout, led by senior pitcher David Speer, who allowed just five hits.

Columbia’s staff is without a doubt one of the team’s greatest strengths. Speer, with a 2.00 ERA, has struck out 62 batters in 10 appearances and has surrendered just five walks all season. Last season, he started the first game of the Championship Series, which the Lions won in 10 innings. Speer took the mound again against Dartmouth in the first game of this regular season’s doubleheader, allowing two runs on six hits in six innings pitched. Dartmouth went on to win the game on a walk-off by co-captain Jeff Keller ’14, the first of his career. Also in the pen for the Lions is senior Joey Donino, sophomore George Thanopoulos and sophomore Kevin Roy. Thanopoulos handed Dartmouth six strikeouts over seven innings in the Lions’ 5-4 win this year. Donino started the second game of the championship series last year against Dartmouth and gave up three runs in five innings.

Dartmouth’s lineup, which stumbled out of the gates early in the season, has not scored fewer than three runs in the last 11 games. Most recently, the team knocked in 11 runs against the Bulldogs in the Division playoff game — six of them against Yale’s best pitcher, Chris Lanham. The momentum propelling the team, Nick Lombardi ’15 said, will push Dartmouth toward success.

“I think that we can handle their pitching,” he said. “It’s going to come down to what we have. Right now, we have momentum, good cohesiveness and everyone is having fun. I think last year we were nervous to have something taken from us, but this year we’re going to go and take it from Columbia.”

Both teams have seen incredible success in the late season, so momentum could work both for and against Dartmouth. The team left eight men stranded in its last game which, Keller said, will be something the team will focus on.

“That’s been our problem all year,” he said. “I think we’re going to work on taking advantage of every opportunity, not every other one or every third one.”

The Dartmouth rotation is down one of its most reliable starters this weekend after Beau Sulser ’16 came out of the playoff game holding his elbow. The remaining starters, Louis Concato ’14, Michael Danielak ’16, Duncan Robinson ’16 and Mike Concato ’17 will continue to work together to keep Columbia’s offense at bay. Because the Ivy League is structured around four-game weekends, catcher Matt MacDowell ’15 said, the staff should be able to go the length of the series without too much fatigue.

With two shutouts in his last two outings and the team’s lowest ERA, freshman Mike Concato appears likely for the game one start — a critical match in determining the tone and subsequent outcome of the rest of the series.

In the last two seasons, the teams have faced each other in two doubleheaders and in last season’s Championship Series, which Columbia took 2-0. The first game of each face off has been decided by just one run — twice that game has been decided in extra innings. This year, Dartmouth beat Columbia in Hanover in extra innings before the Lions came back to win the second game of the doubleheader by again just one run. In a dead heat, co-captain Dustin Selzer ’14 said, the team that surfaces as champions of the Ivy League will be determined only by who can come out and leave it all on the diamond.

“Teams are not going to be — Columbia in particular — is not going to be intimidated by us,” he said. “We’re not going to win based on our name, who we are or what we’ve done. It’s going to be, like coach said before, whoever plays the best on Saturday.”