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Dartmouth softball tournament hopes take a hit

  • Dartmouth College softball pitcher Shelby Wilkison, third from left, addresses her teammates Sunday after the Big Green was swept in a three-game series by Ivy League arch-rival Harvard. Dartmouth fell to 6-23 overall and 3-9 in league play, a year after competing in the Ancient Eight's championship series. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

  • Dartmouth College softball coach Jen Williams, center, talks with assistant coaches Olivia Watkins, right, and Patricia Cipicchio on Sunday after the Big Green's 4-3 loss to arch-rival Harvard. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

  • Dartmouth College's Taylor Ward dives home safely Sunday with her team's final run during a 4-3 loss to visiting Harvard. Crimson catcher Elizabeth Shively is too late with the tag. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

  • Dartmouth College softball baserunner Tessa Grossman and Harvard shortstop Rhianna Rich become entangled after the former was tagged out by the latter at second base Sunday. The visiting Crimson won, 4-3, and swept a three-game series from its Ivy League arch-rivals. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

  • Dartmouth College pitcher Shelby Wilkison winds up Sunday against Harvard. The sophomore was tagged with a 4-3 loss and dropped to 3-8 this season. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)



Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, April 14, 2019

HANOVER — Remnants of the enormous snowbanks behind the Dartmouth College softball stadium’s outfield walls might remain a month from now, sheltered from the sun by the pine trees on Velvet Rocks. It’s around that time that the Ivy League conducts its championship series, in which the Big Green has participated four times during the last six years.

That will almost certainly not be the case this spring, however.

On Sunday, Dartmouth concluded a three-game sweep at the hands of visiting Harvard with a 4-3 loss that dropped the hosts to 6-23 overall and 3-9 in league play. Even if the Big Green were to win its nine remaining Ivy games, six of which are on the road, and finish 12-9, no squad with more than seven losses has ever qualified for the Ancient Eight’s two-team title matchup.

“Giving up on the season is disrespectful to the Dartmouth softball program and the people in it who came before us and those who will come after us,” said third baseman Morgan Martinelli, one of the team’s two seniors. “It’s not like these were blowout games, and we know exactly what we need to do. We needed timely hitting, and we didn’t get that.”

Dartmouth’s players got an earful from head coach Jen Williams and her two assistants during a 20-minute postgame meeting in left field. The trio used raised voices and distinct gestures, leaving no doubt that a league season on track to be the program’s worst since 2012 is unacceptable.

“We’ve been working very hard over the last three or four weeks to make sure we’re getting a little bit better every day,” said Williams, who’s in her first year on the job after making the Massachusetts Institute of Technology one of NCAA Division III’s better programs.

“Today we didn’t feel like things looked like they needed to look on all sides of the ball, so we had an emphatic conversation to recenter.”

Chief among Williams complaints was her players’ plate discipline and overall commitment. The former issue comes about when batters deviate from a plan of attack and begin swinging at too many pitches, she said.

“People press at the plate in a way that’s not productive,” said Williams, whose team has lost four consecutive games. “We haven’t seen commitment to the work we’ve put in to help them to stay more composed.

“In a big game, you want to be the one who comes up with a big hit, but you have to identify when your emotions are running too high for you to see a good pitch.”

A day after losing by 2-1 and 9-7 scores, Dartmouth surrendered a run in the first inning and three during the fifth. The hosts rallied in the seventh with three runs, two of them unearned, but stranded seven runners during the afternoon and ended the game when Schae Nelson fouled out with the bases empty.

Sophomore Shelby Wilkison took the loss, dropping to 3-8 and leaving her ERA at 6.16. The righthander allowed two hits and three runs, one of them unearned, during 4⅓ innings of work. She struck out none and walked four and fanned 33 and walked 53 this spring.

Dartmouth rode a string of strong arms such as three-time Ivy pitcher of the year Kristen Rumley, Morgan McCalmon and Breanna Ethridge to the 2014 and 2015 league titles and two other championship series appearances during the last six seasons, including last spring.

It’s too early to say the hurling well has run dry, but a Big Green staff featuring two sophomores and two freshmen has a combined ERA of 5.93 and has walked 19 more batters than it’s struck out.

“We are very young, and our pitching staff, in particular,” said Williams, whose roster includes six freshmen, five sophomores and eight juniors. “In softball, that matters a lot. I was really proud of our pitchers this weekend … but last year, we had a senior pitcher (Ethridge) who did a lot of work for us.”

Williams said how much her team improves will have much to do with her players’ passion and consistent intensity.

“Are you committed to softball even if you’re losing?” the coach asked. “You have to look inside yourself and ask if you’re committed to the process. If you can hang on to that conviction, you’re going to have increasing improvement. If you’re not, you’re free to go.”

Notes: Former coach Rachel Hanson, who was 88-86 from 2011-14, attended the game. The Big Green program had about 30 former members celebrate its 25th anniversary during the weekend. … Shannon Dopeking, who was 118-98 as coach from 2015-18, is 18-22 overall and 7-8 in the Atlantic Coast Conference as boss at Syracuse (N.Y.) University this spring. … Impressively exercising goodwill over frustration, the Big Green played and celebrated after Sunday’s game with a half-dozen children. The youngsters ran the bases, played catch and took a group photo with the Dartmouth players. … Harvard is 16-14 overall and 9-3 in the Ivies, tied with Columbia atop the standings. Princeton, Pennsylvania, Yale and Brown are next, followed by Dartmouth and last-place Cornell, which entertains the Big Green this weekend.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.