Men’s baseball looks to take back Ivy League Championship

by Vikram Bodas | 2/25/16 7:10pm

After five straight years of heart-breaking losses in the Ivy League Championship Series, the Dartmouth baseball team is looking to capture its first title since the 2009-2010 season.

By all accounts, the key to this year’s team will be replacing the holes left in the lineup by now graduated Nick Lombardi ’15 and Matt Parisi ’15. Head coach Bob Whalen, who is entering his 27th season with the Big Green, believes that doing so will have to be a collective effort.

“We have options,” Whalen said. “When you have two guys like Lombardi and Parisi who have been every day players for a long time you know what you are going to get.”

Whalen added that it is not as simple as picking a player to replace each of them but is about giving the players opportunities early to go out and play. Luckily for the Big Green, the team has two respected captains in seniors Duncan Robinson ’16 and Thomas Roulis ’15 to help in this transition and ensure that the winning tradition continues in Hanover.

“I think they are both excellent captains and leaders,” Whalen said. “I think you are fortunate as a coach when some of your most talented players are also the hardest workers and also have the respect of both the coaching staff and their teammates. That’s what puts them in a position to lead like nobody else on the team can.”

Robinson, the reigning Ivy League Pitcher of the Year, will shoulder the responsibility of starting the first game of most series during the course of the season.

“Pitching the first game of the weekend every weekend can be challenging for a variety of reasons,” Whalen said. “Taking the mantle of that responsibility is a big thing. Every time he takes the ball he puts the team in a position to win.”

After his breakout year, Robinson did not rest on his laurels. Instead, he continued to hone his craft by playing competitive baseball throughout the off-season.

Robinson wrote in an email that he pushed himself further by playing in the Cape Cod Baseball League, which forced him to overcome some struggles. Robinson added that he was able to develop even further as a pitcher thanks to help from the Cotuit Kettlers head coach Mike Roberts.

Robinson’s co-captain, Roulis, is coming off an injury plagued 2015 campaign, which resulted in him missing the entire season. The former All-Ivy League honorable mention second baseman will help stabilize the top of Dartmouth’s lineup. That said, his biggest impact might come from a defensive standpoint as the shore-handed senior figures to slot into one of the middle infield positions in 2016.

“He is a very good infielder — he always has been,” Whalen said. “His athletic ability allows us to play him at some different places. His experience allows us to put him in a position where the most important criteria is just to make routine plays. We just want guys making the plays that they are supposed to make and right now he gives us the best chance to do that.”

Roulis, who will shift to shortstop next season, will be flanked in the infield by promising sophomores Dustin Shirley ’18 and Justin Fowler ’18 who will battle it out all year for the starting second base job. Freshmen infielders Nate Ostmo ’19 and Sean Sullivan ’19 will also compete for time in the infield.

Roulis wrote in an email that he tries not to focus on past team successes or failures, adding that each season is a new opportunity for success and to show how hard the team worked since the last game the previous season. Roulis added that as long as each player plays the game hard and the right way, everything else will take care of itself.

First base will be manned primarily by Dallas native Michael Ketchmark ’17, who some, including himself, feel had a down year in 2015. Whalen disagrees with the narrative and expects a strong year from his burly corner infielder.

“You can make numbers come out any way you want,” Whalen said. “You take guys every year and you challenge them to get better every year. He only had a few at-bats his freshman year so the batting average is frankly irrelevant. I think his experience this summer has him poised for a very good year.”

The departure of the aforementioned Lombardi leaves a big hole at the big corner, and Whalen is exercising patience in naming a full time starter for the position. As it stands today, it seems likely that Steffen Torgersen ’19 will at least start the season as the regular at third base.

Joe Purritano ’16 figures to get most of the designated hitter responsibilities this year. The sweet-swinging senior was recently selected in the 30th round by the Cincinnati Reds in the 2015 MLB Draft after a season in which he hit a solid .277 to go along with 3 homers and 30 runs batted in.

Behind the dish, Adam Gauthier ’16, John Melody ’17 and Rob Emery ’19 will help manage Dartmouth’s deep starting rotation, which includes Robinson along with starters Beau Sulser ’16, Michael Danielak ’16 and Jackson Bubala ’17 among others. The bullpen will be anchored by closer Patrick Peterson ’18 and set-up man Chris Burkholder ’17, who are both coming off strong 2015 campaigns.

Unlike the infield, the Big Green’s outfield will look relatively the same in 2016 as it did last year. Nick Ruppert ’16, Ben Socher ’17 and Kyle Holbrook ’18 will again man the outfield spots. All three offered Whalen a quality balance of offensive production and defensive stability throughout last year. However, Hayden Rappoport ’18, Matt Feinstein ’19 and Mike Brown ’19 will all push the three incumbents if their production falls at any point throughout the year.

The Big Green will play 18 games over three trips to Florida before its Ivy League opener against Princeton University on April 2. Whalen hopes to use these games as a way to prepare his team and give the younger players playing time early in the season.

“We are trying to win every game,” Whalen said. “This is not big league spring training. While we are doing that we are giving guys opportunities to show us what they can do. We will see where we are before the first conference game.”

Even though the immediate goal for this team is to win the Ivy League, Robinson feels that this is a group that has a chance to go much, much further.

Robinson said that the team wants to play into June, adding that the team “want[s] to shock some people” by winning an Ivy Championship and moving on to more playoff competition.