Baseball gets first win of the season after six straight losses

by Gayne Kalustian | 3/9/15 7:01pm

03.10.15.sports.joe purritano_Tracy Wang
by Tracy Wang / The Dartmouth

The baseball team’s first win of the season was a victory in every sense of the word. The pitching, fully commanded by two freshmen, Patrick Peterson ’18 and Sam Fichthorn ’18, left the Bucknell University Bisons scoreless through nine innings. In the final game of the Snowbird Classic in Florida, the team’s offense spread its eight runs across four separate innings, and with the exception of a single fielding error — compared to Bucknell’s five — on the very first at bat of the game, the defense seemed nearly flawless.

Peterson and Fichthorn, who threw five and four innings respectively, allowed three hits together against the Bison (6-3), who have averaged 7.6 runs per game thus far this season. Fichthorn has not allowed a single run in his short tenure, making three appearances and pitching for a combined 7.2 innings in the two weekends the Big Green has played. The athlete remains the only Big Green pitcher this season to preserve the opening season 0.00 ERA with more than one appearance. Fichthorn has collected half his outs on grounders, reflecting his tendency to search for the bottom of the strike zone, he said.

“The changes that the coaches have made in my mechanics have kept me a lot more down at the knees, which is where I want to be,” Fichthorn said. “I haven’t been throwing a lot of strikeouts, but I’ve been making them hit the pitches that I want them to hit rather than their money pitches.”

Having been a closer in high school behind two starters who both had sub-one ERAs, he said, coming in on the back end or for long relief poses no problem for him in terms of where he perceives his role on the team to be. Still, Fichthorn’s success is a product of several factors, not the least of which being the small sample size from which to draw his statistical information. Despite his impressive performances, it is, after all, hard to get a complete image of his potential after only two weekends. Being successful in collegiate baseball in the long run, he said, will take a continuing effort from him and his coaches.

“You can’t make [as many] mistakes in college ball,” Fichthorn said. “I had experienced [pitching philosophies like Dartmouth’s] before, but I wasn’t really taking them to heart. I was more throw as hard as you can in the general area of the strike zone, but that’s not going to work now. I’m spotting up a little bit at the cost of a few miles per hour on my fastball, but it’s made me lot more of a finesse pitcher.”

The team saw an uncharacteristic outing from rotational ace Duncan Robinson ’16, who started his season by throwing five scoreless innings against then No. 14 Texas A&M University in the season opener on Feb. 27.

In the first game of the tournament on Friday night in Port Charlotte, Florida, Robinson took the mound and threw a scoreless first inning before being handled by the Indiana University Hoosiers, who scored seven runs before Robinson could take himself out of the next inning. Despite the devastating second inning, Robinson was left on the mound to recompose himself and take the team deeper into the game without tiring the bullpen, during which he threw three more scoreless innings. Keeping Robinson on the mound after a tough inning, captain Louis Concato ’14 said, provided the junior pitcher with good training for the upcoming season.

“I mean it’s not easy but I think that’s why coach wanted [Robinson] to do it,” Concato said. “We’re going to have games which always don’t go well and are easy, so early on in the season is really where you want to work on bearing down and minimizing innings, work through jams and keep your team in the game, which [Robinson] ended up being able to do by throwing three more shutout innings.”

The team, who rallied with a four-run third inning and a two-run fourth inning came within a single run of the Hoosiers, but failed to gain the lead and gave up one final run in the seventh. Chris Burkholder ’17, who threw well through two innings last weekend before giving up four runs to the Aggies, closed out the game in 1.1 innings and allowed no hits.

On Saturday, the Big Green fell behind in the opening innings against both Ball State and Northwestern Universities. The Concato brothers, Louis Concato and Mike Concato ’17, took the starts, Louis against Ball State and Mike against Northwestern. Saturday’s game was Mike Concato’s first appearance this season after not playing in Texas the weekend before. The brothers gave up four and five earned runs, respectively. Burkholder was called to close out the game against Ball State and threw a single hitless inning after Marc Bachman ’18 took over for Louis Concato in the fifth inning and went for four frames, surrendering one run on three hits.

Offensively speaking, the Big Green has been seeing definite signs of life, averaging just over five runs per game against opponents in the Snowbird Classic. Designated hitter Joe Purritano ’16, who was the Ivy League Rookie of the Year as a freshman before hitting .265 as a sophomore in a season he identified as “a struggle,” is hitting .393 this season in his 28 at bats. Of course, the sample size is again very small, and the suggestion that a player could maintain a near .400 average through an entire season is absurd. For a player who came out of high school and hit .343, though, it’s not quite out of reach to expect some good competition from Purritano in the box, especially considering the mental impact a less-than-ideal season can have on a player. To come back and make an impact, he said, he’s been working on both the mental and physical aspects of his hitting.

“For my mental approach [I was] swinging at bad pitches, being overaggressive at the plate, not working deep in the counts,” Purritano said. “Physically I felt like my swing got a little bit long. I am a little bit top heavy and was using a lot more of my upper body than my lower body.”

With a current 1-6 record, this start isn’t out of the ordinary for the Big Green, who tends to stack its preseason after spending the winter cooped up indoors. Illusions of perfection, though, would not serve the bigger picture for the Big Green. The team — after having one of its slowest offensive seasons in recent history and still needing to work out its pitching rotation and figure out, among other things, how to manage having two fairly capable catchers and new faces on the right side of the infield — is a work in progress. That, however, is what the preseason is for, and that’s part of the beauty of baseball in the Northeast. Even if icy Hanover is not quite ready for baseball, baseball is coming anyway, in whatever way it can.