Hanover — The Dartmouth College baseball team held a banquet Saturday night at the Hanover Inn to celebrate the program’s 150th anniversary. More than 200 former coaches and players packed the gathering, including onetime major leaguers Jim Beattie, Mike Remlinger and Mark Johnson.
The good feelings continued Sunday on Red Rolfe Field at Biondi Park during a doubleheader sweep of Columbia, the three-time defending Ivy League champion. The Lions lost two games in one day at the refurbished facility for the first time since it opened in 2009. Columbia was the seventh and final Ivy rival to suffer that fate on an artificial surface where Dartmouth is 88-21.
“I wanted it to be a great weekend for the guys who came back,” said Dartmouth coach Bob Whalen, whose team split a doubleheader with visiting Pennsylvania on Saturday before beating Columbia by 3-1 and 7-6 scores.
“It certainly makes a difference when you go 3-1 on the weekend instead of 2-2. Particularly when you consider that, after a nonleague home game Tuesday, our next six games will all be conference games on the road.”
The sweep improved the Big Green to 9-17 overall and 3-3 in league play. Rolfe Division action begins next weekend with four games at Brown. Dartmouth is the eight-time defending division champion and has lost the last three Ivy title series to Gehrig Division champion Columbia in New York.
Sunday’s final game was clinched during the ninth inning when sophomore third baseman Justin Fowler knocked a fly ball over the center fielder’s head with two outs and the bases loaded. The Big Green entered its final at-bat down, 6-4, and facing fireballing reliever George Thanopoulos, who struck out the first batter he faced during the inning.
From there, however, Kyle Holbrook drilled a single up the middle, pinch hitter Rob Emery did the same and Michael Ketchmark yanked a pitch through the left side to make the score 6-5. Columbia brought in closer Harrison Egly, but after throwing three innings Saturday at Harvard, the lanky hurler walked Thomas Roulis and Nick Ruppert to produce a 6-6 tie.
After Joe Purritano struck out, Fowler watched a strike go by before smacking the next pitch toward Thompson Arena and bringing his teammates out of the dugout in a celebratory rush. Fowler said Dartmouth’s players not only physically practice being in such pressure-packed spots but also work with a mental trainer in an effort to eliminate distracting thoughts.
“We try not to let the situation become too big for us and keep a short, simple swing, like the coaches preach,” Fowler said. “I was trying to watch the ball as it came out of his hand, and I saw a curveball up in the (strike) zone that I thought I could hit hard.”
Fowler, a product of Southern California’s Orange County, started 13 games at second base and three others at shortstop as a Dartmouth freshman, so he was a bit nervous after being moved into a third-base platoon with freshman Steffen Torgersen shortly before the current campaign began.
With so much less time to react to balls at the hot corner, Fowler has found himself almost like a hockey or soccer goaltender, catching or knocking down hard-hit grounders and line drives before determining whether a throw to first is wise.
“I only played shortstop in high school,” said Fowler, who was hitless during four at-bats Saturday but had three hits Sunday, including his first collegiate home run. “It’s been a big adjustment, but it’s been fun.”
Said Whalen: “He’s certainly started to play with more confidence lately and handle breaking balls a lot better. I thought long and hard about playing him last night and even today between games, but I just had a hunch he was going to have a good day.”
Clay Chatham, Dartmouth’s second-game starter, pitched on short rest after hurling three innings Wednesday and surrendered four runs, all earned, on six hits during two-plus innings. Chris Burkholder followed for two frames, Michael Danielak for two more and Patrick Peterson for the final two innings. Columbia starter Kevin Roy, a late scratch as the first game’s starter, departed after allowing two hits and two runs during the first inning, leading to speculation about his health.
The first game’s Dartmouth standout was senior pitcher Beau Sulser, who made just his second start of the spring after missing last season while recovering from arm surgery. The senior scattered six hits while allowing an earned run, striking out four Lions and walking one.
Dartmouth got its first run when Ruppert doubled home Ketchmark during the fourth for a 1-1 tie. Its second and third runs came during the fifth when Matt Feinstein signaled home Fowler and Roulis singled in Feinstein.
Sulser retired the last seven Lions he faced, and Burkholder pitched the seventh and final inning to seal the victory. Whalen said Sulser’s 91 pitches were the most he’s unleashed in a game this season and that “he threw exceptionally well.”
Continuing to struggle was Purritano, who hit .277 with 30 RBIs last season and was a 30th-round draft pick by Major League Baseball’s Cincinnati Reds. The senior is at .237 with seven RBIs this spring and sat out Saturday’s second game and Sunday’s first contest.
“This is a confidence game, and he’s had some awfully big hits and driven in some awfully big runs in the past,” Whalen said. “I told him after the games today that his last at-bat was good and very competitive. He’s had some good ones recently.”
Dartmouth finishes a six-game home stand Tuesday against UMass-Lowell (13-14) at 3 p.m.
Tris Wykes can be reached at email@example.com or 603-7272-3227.