Baseball Crushes Yale for Division Crown
Dartmouth third baseman Nick Lombardi hits a two-run homerun in the eighth inning of Dartmouth's Rolfe Division playoff game against Yale at Red Rolfe Field at Biondi Park in Hanover, N.H., on May 4, 2014. Dartmouth won, 11-4. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »
Dartmouth pitcher Beau Sulser clutches his throwing arm while talking with coach Bob Whalen and athletic trainer Peter Tryon after a wild pitch in the second inning of Dartmouth's Rolfe Division playoff game against Yale at Red Rolfe Field at Biondi Park in Hanover, N.H., on May 4, 2014. Dartmouth won, 11-4. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »
Hanover — There have been years when the Dartmouth College baseball team has taken the express route to an Ivy League Red Rolfe Division championship. Then there are seasons such as this one, requiring GPS aid for proper orientation.
Despite the ups and downs, the Big Green is where it seemingly always is — headed to the Ivy League Championship Series. It got there on Sunday in heartbreaking and hard-hitting fashion, taking out Yale 11-4 in a one-game division playoff at Biondi Park.
The win sends Dartmouth (18-19 overall, 12-9 league) into a best-of-three series at Columbia starting Saturday for the Ivy’s NCAA tournament berth. The Big Green enters on an eight-game winning streak, seven of those coming in the league, every single one of them necessary to keep its seven-year division championship run going.
The hard-hitting — a seven-run third inning in which 11 Dartmouth batters went to the plate — followed the heartbreaking. The Big Green faces the likelihood of meeting the Lions without top pitcher Beau Sulser, who crumpled to Red Rolfe Field’s artificial surface holding his right elbow after just his 26th toss of the afternoon.
Dartmouth coach Bob Whalen wasn’t prepared to speculate on the nature of Sulser’s injury or his immediate place in the Big Green’s plans. Knowing that Sulser’s older brother Cole, a former Dartmouth pitcher, required Tommy John surgery for a torn elbow ligament three years ago simply added an unwelcome sense to a day of déjà vu.
“I’m sick about this, for him,” Whalen said. “He’s taken the responsibility of pitching the first game of the weekend for the entire year. People don’t understand how important that is. Not only do you have to put your team in a position to win, you’ve got to suck up innings so we can’t tax the bullpen on the first game of the weekend.
“He carried that burden all year. His pitch counts haven’t been that high at all. He pitched last Sunday. It is just a total freak thing.”
That the Big Green pulled off its big assault on Yale pitcher Chris Lanham — who tossed a seven-inning, complete-game shutout at Dartmouth in Hanover on April 13 — wasn’t lost on anyone in a Dartmouth shirt.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs (19-22, 11-10), Lanham lost the grip on his off-speed pitches shortly after his teammates staked him to a 2-0 lead. The Big Green teed off when he did, pounding out seven hits in the third and going ahead to stay.
“We’re getting a lot of big hits when we need to get big hits,” said third baseman Nick Lombardi, who tripled, homered and drove in a team-high four runs. “That was our struggle early on; we weren’t really hitting when we needed to in big situations. But now we’re driving balls in the gap and we’re hitting them hard. They’re falling real good for us.”
Yale hit the doomed Sulser for two runs in the second. Tom O’Neill’s one-out grounder with the bases loaded got the Bulldogs going. Cale Hanson came in with a second run on the play in which Sulser was hurt, a pitch into the turf that got past Dartmouth catcher Matt MacDowell.
Whalen had his next move in mind “before I reached the top step of the dugout,” calling on 6-foot-6 righty Duncan Robinson. On a team requiring a full rebuild of the starting rotation this season — while also lacking a true closer — Robinson has become Dartmouth’s best option after Sulser, and proved his mettle in an unexpected scenario.
“He’s the next-best guy,” Whalen confessed. “It’s not that complicated.”
Robinson took Sulser’s full count with Yale’s Green Campbell and struck him out with one pitch. The sophomore from Houston topped that with five solid innings of work, giving up just a two-run homer to the Bulldogs’ David Toups in the seventh during a 98-pitch effort.
Louis Concato threw the final two frames for his first save.
“I had no expectations to go in during the second inning; I expected (Sulser) to go seven strong,” Robinson admitted. “It’s kind of reflective on our season: We’ve had games with snow, rain, everything, having guys have freak accidents. You’ve got to prepare for everything.”
Dartmouth sat on Lanham’s fastball in the third and slapped it all over Red Rolfe Field.
MacDowell, Matt Parisi, Jeff Keller (three hits) and Nick Ruppert hit consecutive singles to get Dartmouth on the board. Lanham’s third pitch to Thomas Roulis skipped to the backstop, tying the game.
After Roulis walked, designated hitter Joe Purritano singled in two runs to chase Lanham. Yale coach John Stuper brought in righty Chris Moates, whom Lombardi greeted with a first-pitch bomb off the center-field fence to plate two more runs for a 6-2 lead. Bo Patterson (three hits) then singled to bring Lombardi home.
“When you load the bases with nobody out, that really sets the table for scoring a lot of runs,” Lombardi said. “I was expecting he’d try to throw something hard, get something by me, assert himself on the mound, but he left it up. I was expecting the pitch. I was ready for it.”
The Big Green tacked on four in the eighth to put the game away. Roulis tripled in a run, Dustin Selzer brought in Roulis with a sacrifice fly and Lombardi provided the punctuation, a two-run home run to left-center.
The GPS now points south, toward New York. It’s been quite the ride so far.
“I’m mostly very proud of our team for keeping their poise and staying together,” Whalen said. “When your pitcher has an injury like that, it’s very unsettling. They were able to maintain it and keep putting good at-bats together.”