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Big Green Softball Plays for Ivy Title

The Dartmouth College softball team hopes to draw large crowds to its three-year old stadium for this weekend's Ivy League title series against Pennsylvania. Valley News - Tris Wykes

The Dartmouth College softball team hopes to draw large crowds to its three-year old stadium for this weekend's Ivy League title series against Pennsylvania. Valley News - Tris Wykes

Hanover — Do you sisu? The Dartmouth College softball team does.

Fourth-year coach Rachel Hanson presented the Finnish word to her squad before the current season started. It means, well, let’s allow senior co-captain Kara Curosh to explain.

“It’s the idea of resilient hard work and something we try to embody,” said Curosh, whose team hosts Pennsylvania in the best-of-three Ivy League title series this weekend for the right to earn an automatic berth in the 64-team NCAA tournament.

“It’s working hard when things are going your way and when they’re not going your way. Of having this steady approach so our mindset is the same in every single game and at-bat.”

Sounds like the Big Green, which has been consistently relentless in posting a 29-16 overall and an 18-2 league mark this spring. The players have worn t-shirts and rubber bracelets with SISU on them all season.

Dartmouth claimed its second consecutive North Division crown earlier this week by winning three of four games from Harvard and is now seeking revenge for its loss at Penn in last year’s title series. The matchup was decided when the Quakers won the third contest by a run.

Dartmouth won the teams’ two games here in early April and is led by the pitching duo of junior Kristen Rumley (16-7) and sophomore Morgan McCalmon (10-4). The former has a 1.85 ERA and has been the staff ace for the last couple of campaigns, while the latter has a 2.33 ERA and has come on strong since the end of the 2013 season.

“Morgan had all the raw ability last year but had to work on some mechanical things and the mental game,” Hanson said. “Once she learned how to compete in spite of failure at times, she became dominant.”

McCalmon, who’s from Norman, Okla., also leads the team in batting at .424 and is tied for its lead in RBIs with 27. Sophomore third baseman Kelsey Miller is batting .350 and sophomore shortstop Katie McEachern is at .342 with a team-high seven home runs. Second baseman Curosh has a .977 fielding percentage and freshman first baseman Maddie Damore offers power and a slick glove.

Catcher Alex St. Romain almost never bats, but offers an upbeat and commanding presence behind the dish. The outfield features junior Megan Averitt in center, flanked by freshmen Chloe Madill in left and Karen Chaw in right. Both outfield rookies, along with Damore, have had to learn their positions on the fly, as all three played different slots in high school.

“I’m literally seeing a different side of the field and everything’s backwards,” said Chaw, who was previously a catcher. “I’m still getting there.”

Dartmouth’s previous coach, Christine Vogt, resigned in 2010 after guiding the program to three second-place division finishes and a division title during the previous four years. Hanson led the team to runner-up division finishes her first two years and titles in the last two, but it wasn’t an entirely smooth transition. The Big Green played its last season at drab Sachem Field in West Lebanon during its new boss’ first season.

“Coach Hanson’s philosophy was very different from coach Vogt’s, and it took a lot of people time to get used to that, especially the upperclassmen,” Curosh said. “Now, though, we have the competitive drive. The (sophomores) came in last year and they were good and they knew it, and they were going to compete for spots.

“It didn’t matter that they were freshmen and they didn’t sit back and hope that they would play. They were hunting and it created a really solid culture on this team where you have to fight for your spot.”

Hanson said it’s been business as usual in the days leading up to the series.

“You don’t fix what’s not broken,” she said with a grin.

Dartmouth’s pitchers will aim to get ahead in the count early and often, as they have all season.

“We’re going to pound the strike zone and attack in the first three pitches,” Hanson said. “And we have to make the routine (defensive) plays. I don’t need superheroes; we just need to make the ones we should. Offensively, we have to continue to battle against a very good pitcher and trust that the hits will eventually fall.”

Alexis Borden is Penn’s top hurler, at 11-8 and with a .191 ERA. Leah Allen leads the Quakers with a .384 batting average and 13 home runs.

“Alexis Borden brings it, especially in the postseason,” Hanson said. “She throws BBs on the low corners and doesn’t miss her spots. She’s got a great change-up as well. We have to look for a certain pitch and if we see it, sell out and take a big cut.

“They’ve got good hitters throughout the lineup, but particularly Allen and (Alexis) Sargent, those are their big power hitters who we have to limit productivity when there are runners on base. This team has experience and it will be prepared for this weekend. It’s going to be two great teams matching up.”

Hanson said she’s discussed with her players how to handle the high-energy environment likely to pervade the team’s three-year old stadium during Saturday’s doubleheader and on Sunday if a deciding game is needed.

“We’re not going to pretend like it isn’t there and that we’re not getting an adrenaline rush,” she said. “It’s about acknowledging and managing that and moving forward.”

Notes: Admission to the series games is free. Extra bleachers were to be set up beyond the outfield fence to accommodate what’s expected to be a larger crowd than the team usually draws, but the ground was deemed too soggy to support them. … Potential hecklers should be aware that the standards for what is tolerated at college softball games appear to be lower than in male sports. Several male fans were ejected without warning from last weekend’s home game against Harvard. … The games will be available in audio and video format on the Ivy League Digital Network with Dartmouth men’s basketball and women’s hockey play-by-play man Dave Collins describing the action. … The NCAA tournament selection show is May 11 at 10 p.m. on ESPNU and the first games are May 15 at eight regional sites around the country.

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