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Big Day for Big Green

Softball Beats Penn to Win Program’sFirst-Ever Ivy Title

  • Dartmouth College captains Kristen Romney, left, and Kara Curosh hold the Ivy League title trophy aloft Sunday after the Big Green defeated visiting Pennsylvania, 7-3, in the best-of-three championship series' deciding game to give the softball team its first-ever Ivy League championship trophy. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

    Dartmouth College captains Kristen Romney, left, and Kara Curosh hold the Ivy League title trophy aloft Sunday after the Big Green defeated visiting Pennsylvania, 7-3, in the best-of-three championship series' deciding game to give the softball team its first-ever Ivy League championship trophy. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Purchase photo reprints »

  •  Umpire Dave Barber calls Pennsylvania runner Kayla Dahlerbruch safe as Dartmouth shortstop Katie McEachern lays on the tag. Valley News — Tris Wykes

    Umpire Dave Barber calls Pennsylvania runner Kayla Dahlerbruch safe as Dartmouth shortstop Katie McEachern lays on the tag. Valley News — Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dartmouth second baseman Kara Curosh hits a two-run homerun in the fifth inning of Dartmouth's Ivy League championship game against Penn to start a comeback from a three-run deficit in the final game of the series in Hanover, N.H., on May 4, 2014. Dartmouth won, 7-3. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Dartmouth second baseman Kara Curosh hits a two-run homerun in the fifth inning of Dartmouth's Ivy League championship game against Penn to start a comeback from a three-run deficit in the final game of the series in Hanover, N.H., on May 4, 2014. Dartmouth won, 7-3. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dartmouth College captains Kristen Romney, left, and Kara Curosh hold the Ivy League title trophy aloft Sunday after the Big Green defeated visiting Pennsylvania, 7-3, in the best-of-three championship series' deciding game to give the softball team its first-ever Ivy League championship trophy. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)
  •  Umpire Dave Barber calls Pennsylvania runner Kayla Dahlerbruch safe as Dartmouth shortstop Katie McEachern lays on the tag. Valley News — Tris Wykes
  • Dartmouth second baseman Kara Curosh hits a two-run homerun in the fifth inning of Dartmouth's Ivy League championship game against Penn to start a comeback from a three-run deficit in the final game of the series in Hanover, N.H., on May 4, 2014. Dartmouth won, 7-3. (Valley News - Will Parson)

Hanover — The Dartmouth College softball team was three outs away from victory Sunday and taking the field for the top of the seventh inning when a baritone bellow emanated from the packed student section above its dugout.

“Finish them!” shouted a male fan, leading to applause and cheering from those around him.

Finish them the Big Green did, retiring Pennsylvania in order to claim the deciding contest in the best-of-three Ivy League title series and an accompanying berth in the 64-team NCAA tournament. That event begins May 16 at regional sites to be determined.

The hosts’ 7-3 triumph completed a mission begun four years ago when Dartmouth Athletic Director Harry Sheehy plucked a Division III coach from Texas obscurity, installing Rachel Hanson atop a program that had slogged along in mediocrity or worse since its 1995 inception. Last year’s narrow loss to Penn in the Ivy title series sparked a renewed commitment among its returning players, who have combined with a trio of starting freshmen to go 31-17.

“This is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had,” said sophomore Morgan McCalmon, her voice cracking as her teammates yelled and milled around her, many of their parents celebrating with them on the field. “We’ve worked so hard for this all season and I could not be more proud.”

Said Hanson: “I knew we had the talent and mental makeup to give ourselves the opportunity to play for the title again, but you get here and it can fall either way. One hit here or there can make all the difference.”

Sunday’s version was a two-run home run by senior second baseman Kara Curosh to left-center field during the fifth inning. The Big Green trailed 3-0 when the Munster, Ind., native stepped into the batter’s box and it had scored just once during its previous eight at-bats, stretching back to the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader, a 5-3 Quakers victory that tied the series at a game apiece.

Curosh’s round-tripper was only her second of the season and the first she had hit at home since Dartmouth played at West Lebanon’s Sachem Field during her freshman year.

“I was actually afraid it wasn’t going to clear the fence because it was a line-drive shot,” McCalmon said. “She got us going and that little spark of energy was just what we needed to put some runs up.”

Curosh, a double major in Italian and economics who will soon begin work for an investment firm, said she was bit shocked to see the ball zip over the wire and into the woods. She had not recorded a hit in the series to that point.

“I’m not a home run hitter at all,” Curosh said. Penn’s Alexis Borden “had been pitching me pretty much the same thing, low and in. I took a first strike there and I was mad at myself, but luckily she pitched another one at knee height. I’m impressed by her and how much and how well she pitched, but I finally caught on to her, I guess.”

Kristen Rumley, Dartmouth’s pitching ace, retired the side in order during the sixth and then the wheels came off for Borden (12-10), who threw all but 1/3 of an inning during the weekend’s three games. McCalmon and Kelsey Miller began the Big Green sixth by drawing consecutive walks and Rumley doubled them both home for a 4-3 lead. A single, a wild pitch, a walk and a hit batter followed, making the score 5-3 and bringing Katie McEachern to the plate.

The sophomore shortstop delivered a two-run single and for all intents and purposes, the game was over.

Rumley retired her seventh, eight and ninth consecutive batters to officially close the door and then disappeared amidst a screaming, green-and-black clad mob. Shortly thereafter, the league championship trophy was presented to her and co-captain Curosh and the shouting and weeping and hugging began anew.

“Two years ago, no one would have predicted this, but that’s why we worked so hard and why we play better as the underdog,” Curosh said. “We just had this hunger that wasn’t going to die until we got this title.”

Hanson has instilled resilient belief in her troops, complemented by the emotional stability to weather most storms. Upbeat and intense, the former dean’s list college student breeds confidence via exhaustive preparation. Along with a nifty recruiting touch, it all paid off Sunday with the athletic department’s second Ivy title of the school year.

“For us, it was a matter of grinding it out until we could string some hits together,” Hanson said. “What I’m most proud of is that we kept hitting shots right at people (for outs) all weekend and that can be demoralizing, but not for this team. They just kept attacking and saying the hits would fall.

“There were definitely nerves at some points, but it was a fun game to be part of.”

Rumley (18-7) allowed five hits and three earned runs while striking out eight Quakers and walking one. She had two hits and two RBIs while Curosh and McEachern each had a hit and two RBIs.

Dartmouth now awaits the NCAA tournament selection show, broadcast May 11 at 10 p.m. on ESPNU. Sixteen regionals of four teams each will be held on campus sites, with a double-elimination format used and the regional winners advancing to the super regional round.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727- 3227.