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Columbia Sweeps Dartmouth for Ivy Baseball Title

Dartmouth baseball coach Bob Whalen (2) argues a call with home plate umpire Richard Maggio that closed the top of the fifth inning in the Big Green's 6-2 loss to Columbia in the opener of Saturday's Ivy League Championship Series doubleheader at Robertson Field. Dartmouth's Adam Gauthier appeared to score on a two-out Jeff Keller single, but Maggio ruled Gauthier failed to touch the plate with his left hand on a head-first slide. The out killed a potential Dartmouth rally from a 4-2 deficit at the time.

Valley News -- Greg Fennell

Dartmouth baseball coach Bob Whalen (2) argues a call with home plate umpire Richard Maggio that closed the top of the fifth inning in the Big Green's 6-2 loss to Columbia in the opener of Saturday's Ivy League Championship Series doubleheader at Robertson Field. Dartmouth's Adam Gauthier appeared to score on a two-out Jeff Keller single, but Maggio ruled Gauthier failed to touch the plate with his left hand on a head-first slide. The out killed a potential Dartmouth rally from a 4-2 deficit at the time. Valley News -- Greg Fennell Purchase photo reprints »

New York — The current vogue of American sportscasting — guilty as charged, ESPN — is to refer to a series of scores or goals, regardless of length, as “unanswered.” The truth of the matter is once the scored-upon stops the run … voila, there’s your answer.

It’s often insufficient, but not in the manner in which the Columbia University baseball team applies the concept. Answering defined: Every time Dartmouth nicked the Lions for a run in Saturday’s Ivy League Championship Series at Robertson Field, Columbia had a response — often in devastating fashion.

Spotting the Big Green the game’s first run in the opener, Columbia quickly answered and followed by riding David Speer’s mound dominance for a 6-2 victory. Again Dartmouth scored first in the nightcap; the Lions roared with a three-run comeback a half-frame later to go with six innings from righty Kevin Roy for a 4-1 sweep, the Ivy title and a second consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament.

The opening loss ended an eight-game winning streak for Dartmouth (18-21 overall, 11-9 league), which needed every one of them to get this far. The second-game defeat ended Dartmouth’s year.

“Momentum in baseball is sustained with your defense,” Columbia coach Brett Boretti said. “For us to answer the bell each time there, it was crucial. The guys coming in and being able to answer right away in the first inning after being down, it’s a vote of confidence. … The guys did a great job with that all day today.”

In nearly every case, Columbia’s answer to a Dartmouth assault came rapidly. Sometimes it didn’t take much.

Witness game two: Dartmouth hit Roy for a run in the bottom of the third inning for the game’s first lead. The Lions (27-17, 15-5) answered right back with three unearned runs a half-inning later and never trailed after that.

A throw from Dartmouth third baseman Nick Lombardi on a Will Savage grounder pulled Big Green first baseman Dustin Selzer off the bag for an error to open the fourth. Aaron Silber produced a two-out RBI single, followed by Gus Craig’s two-run home run to right; all three runs were earned against the record of otherwise excellent Dartmouth starter Dustin Robinson.

David Vandercook put the title in the books with a solo shot in the eighth.

“I believe in my team,” Dartmouth coach Bob Whalen said. “We work hard as a staff, and we require that the players work hard, and they do. You never know; certainly there was a lot of uncertainty about our pitching, but I thought we had the ability — if a couple of things went our way — to be back here. And we were.”

Where the Big Green had hoped to break out its big guns to open the doubleheader, the Lions used a loaded Speer gun to better effect.

Dartmouth had reason to be hopeful, forcing the senior left-hander from the game after six innings en route to a 3-2 win over the Lions at Red Rolfe Field on April 5. Saturday’s first game started better, with Nick Ruppert and Dustin Selzer delivering first-inning doubles for a quick 1-0 lead.

Where he fanned just one in their first encounter, Speer had Big Green hitters twirling in the batter’s box on Saturday. The southpaw whiffed two Dartmouth batters in the first, third and fourth frames and finished with seven Ks for the game.

Starting with a swinging strikeout of Joe Purritano to close the Dartmouth first, Speer retired 10 straight batters as his Columbia teammates slowly rapped a drumbeat of hits on Big Green righthander Michael Concato.

“I wasn’t upset at all; I thought I executed my pitches and they put some good swings on the ball,” Speer said. “Fastballs were in, and they opened up a little bit. I wasn’t discouraged by it. I just stuck with the process. Two good swings is enough to change anything.”

A big blast from cleanup hitter Robb Paller — a solo home run over the right-field fence, the deepest part of Robertson Field — signaled the start of the fourth-inning rally that decided the opener. Paller took a first-pitch offering from Concato to put Columbia ahead to stay, and the Lions weren’t done there.

Silbar doubled and Craig reached on an infield pop-up that Dartmouth shortstop Matt Parisi lost in a hazy sky, Lombardi arriving too late to save the error. A Nick Maguire sacrifice fly brought in Silbar, and Craig followed later on a John Kinne single for a 4-1 lead.

The Big Green thought it had an answer a half-frame later. Having cut into the gap on a Parisi RBI grounder, top-of-the-order batsman Jeff Keller — with Adam Gauthier on second base — delivered a solid single to center field. Gauthier got the wave-through at third base, beat the throw to the plate and slid head-first, reaching for home plate with his left hand.

Home plate umpire Richard Maggio ruled otherwise, calling Gauthier out on catcher Mike Fischer’s post-slide tag. The call drew a brief, heated response from Whalen.

“I thought he touched the plate,” Whalen said. “The umpire said he didn’t.”

Vandercook tacked on two more runs for Columbia with a solo home run in the fifth and an RBI double in the seventh. Speer nearly did the rest on his own, going into the ninth before Lions coach Boretti brought in righty George Thanopoulos for the final three outs.

Even when Mother Nature offered Dartmouth a chance to respond on its own — in the form of a 48-minute rain delay in game two — the Big Green couldn’t. Boretti tossed two relievers the visitors’ way after the break, with Thomas Crispi escaping a two-on, no-out jam in the seventh, Dartmouth’s last serious threat.

“Dartmouth is a very good team,” Boretti said. “They’re always good defensively. They’re always good pitching. They don’t give you anything for free, and it’s a game of inches.

“There’s not a big difference between the winners and losers today. We just took advantage of situations.”

At last check, that fits the very definition of an unanswered streak.

Fungoes: Boretti was a three-year teammate with Dartmouth sports information director Rick Bender on the Davidson College baseball team. Bender played shortstop; Boretti, a catcher, was inducted into the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame four years ago. … The Columbia football stadium bears Lawrence Wien’s name, but the playing surface belongs to one-time Lions gridder and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. … Electronic signs on southbound Interstate 91 in Massachusetts on Saturday morning inquired the following of drivers: “Changing lanes? Use yah blinkah.” … Rather that the usual half-hour between games, officials waited 75 minutes — until 3:30 p.m. — to start game two because of passing thunderstorms. … The frequent passage of Metro North commuter trains gave the doubleheader a distinctly New York feel. … At least Whalen won’t lose his entire starting rotation to graduation or the pros, as happened last spring. The Green loses just four seniors in Selzer, Keller, pitcher Louis Concato and reserve outfielder Ryan Toimil.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.