Baseball starts conference play strong after tough Florida trip
While the Dartmouth baseball team was able to escape the cold during its spring break trip to Florida, it was not able to escape difficult competition.
The team finished 1-6 on a seven-game trip including matchups against Wayne State University, the University of South Florida and Bradley University. While pitching and defense were solid on the trip, the offense struggled, scoring three runs or less in all six losses. However, the Big Green turned the tables during a series this weekend against Princeton University, winning two out of three games and combining to score 35 runs to improve to 7-11.
The Big Green rode momentum into Florida, having won three consecutive games during its trip to North Carolina. Dartmouth won two games against Farleigh Dickinson University and a third against Saint Joseph’s University in the Army Baseball Classic, bringing the team’s record to 4-4 in advance of the Florida trip.
However, Dartmouth found itself on the wrong end of a close game in its spring break opener versus Wayne State. The Big Green lost a pitchers’ duel 3-2, failing to score in the final five innings and losing a chance to tie the game with a runner on-base in the ninth inning.
South Florida, arguably the team’s toughest opponent this season, swept Dartmouth in the next series. Since Ivy League schools cannot give out athletic scholarships like South Florida and other top programs do; playing against scholarship programs is naturally a tough challenge for the Big Green and others in the Ivy League.
“South Florida is really good,” co-captain Cole O’Connor ’19 said. “They’re always in the top 50 in [Ratings Percentage Index]. They can get some of the bigger horses that we can’t, but we compete with them pretty well.”
While the second game was a 16-1 blowout, Dartmouth kept the other two games relatively close in 7-3 and 4-1 defeats. In the opener, Dartmouth brought a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning before surrendering six runs and ultimately falling short.
“Results obviously matter, and even though we were close in some, we couldn’t get the wins we wanted,” co-captain Matt Feinstein ’19 said.
But there were bright spots in spite of the sweep, including a couple of freshman standouts. Justin Murray ’22 pitched phenomenally in the opener, surrendering just one run in 6.1 innings. Nathan Skinner ’22 had a similar performance in the series finale, giving up three runs in his 6.1 innings and shutting out the Bulls through his first six.
“The freshman pitchers have really stepped up when we’ve needed them,” said infielder Bryce Daniel ’22, who got his first hit over the break. “A lot of the older guys were injured on the trip, so their performance was huge.”
The Big Green then moved on to face Bradley, and their fortunes turned with a stellar 6-2 victory to start the series. Ubaldo Lopez ’21 hit two home runs, including the decisive grand slam in the ninth inning, and accounted for all six of the team’s RBIs.
“He’s put in a lot of work,” O’Connor said of Lopez. “We were all very excited to see that pay off for him.”
Dartmouth dropped its next two contests to fall to 1-6 on the trip overall, which was disappointing from a win-loss standpoint. However, the experience of playing against top-notch competition will certainly benefit the Big Green heading into Ivy League play.
“We always play a strong schedule at the beginning, which allows us to be locked in and ready to go [the rest of the season],” Feinstein said. “Even if we’re not getting wins out of them, as long as we’re competing and playing our best baseball, it’s good experience and puts us in a really good position.”
Even though the team’s record suffered on the trip, Dartmouth has many reasons to be hopeful for the remainder of the season.
“We’ve been fielding the ball great defensively, and our pitching has been strong,” Feinstein said. “We’re kind of waiting for the bats to heat up, and once they do, we’ll be in a good position to win a lot of games.”
While the offense struggled on the Florida trip, it answered Feinstein’s call against Princeton this weekend. In the first game, Dartmouth exploded for an incredible 23 runs, which exceeded the team’s scoring total from the entire seven-game Florida trip and easily bested Princeton’s three runs. Logan Adams ’21 hit two home runs and drove in six while Feinstein scored four times on two hits. In the second game, a 10-8 victory, the offense had another tremendous performance.
Even after a long road trip over break, the Big Green still has five more consecutive road games. However, the tables will turn late in Ivy League play, as 11 of their final 12 games will be in the friendly confines of Red Rolfe Field in Hanover. With more home games around the corner and Ivy League play just beginning, there is certainly reason to be optimistic for an exciting spring.