In 2011, heading into the 139th season of baseball in Hanover, Dartmouth baseball looked to win its third consecutive conference championship. The Big Green came ever so close to accomplishing that goal, punching their fourth consecutive ticket to the Ivy playoffs before falling in the final game to Princeton.
Dartmouth did post a 30-12 record, setting a new school mark for wins in a season, including a record of 14-6 in the Ivy. Of those 30 victories, 14 of them came at the friendly confines of Red Rolfe Field at Biondi Park. Since its refurbishment prior to the 2009 season, Dartmouth has posted an impressive .893 winning percentage and has a streak of 24 consecutive home wins, the longest in the NCAA.
To stand out in a conference that is crowded with four different teams that have won a conference crown in the last five years, Dartmouth will need to rely on the hallmarks of the program - strong pitching and defense, as well as timely hitting.
The offensive identity will be shaped by a trio of All-Ivy honorees. Senior co-captain Joe Sclafani anchors the lineup and is coming off a year in which he set career highs in batting average, hits and fielding percentage. Junior catcher Chris O'Dowd led the team in round trippers in 2011 with seven, while classmate Ennis Coble '13 led the Ivy League with 40 RBIs and finished third in the batting race, concluding the year hitting .361.
Traditionally one of the strongest components of any Dartmouth team has been both the depth and quality of its pitching staff. That expectation will hold true again in 2012 but will be tested as nearly half of its innings (164.2 of 353.2) will not take to the mound this spring.
Solace can be found in the fact that Hunter and his talents return. Last year he drew the unenviable task of throwing the first game of every weekend series, yet still finished with a career-high five wins while matching his previous high in innings pitched. He was especially tough against Ivy League foes as the second-team All-Ivy pitcher allowed just a .234 average within conference games.
Horacek, a Colorado native, won the final weekend rotation spot as a rookie and rewarded the team with three victories. The best two starts for the 6-5 lefty came at crunch time, when he allowed just two runs in eleven combined innings of work against Brown and Harvard, the last of which helped Dartmouth to a berth in the Ivy Championship Series.
Junior Michael Johnson contributed three wins a year ago but his value was in his appearances, as the team went 11-1 in games in which he was summoned to the mound. After a strong summer, he hopes to turn his successes into a more prominent role on the staff this year. Sophomore Louis Concato adds depth to the pitching staff as he made two starts last year and claimed his first collegiate victory over UMBC.
The relief corps suffered a setback when the Ivy League's all-time saves leader, Ryan Smith, graduated this past June. Much of Smith's success the past four years can be traced not only to his performance but also to an unheralded group that bridged the gap between the starters and end of the game. Headlining that group last year was sophomore Mike Dodakian, who finished second to Smith in appearances with 15. Dodakian posted a 2.93 ERA and a 3-1 record as a rookie while not allowing a run in 10 of his 15 outings.
Senior Max Langford has the most arm strength among his peers and set career bests in ERA (3.46) and opponent batting average (.235) before capturing his lone victory in his final appearance of the year, a five-inning, four-strikeout performance at Hartford. Fellow senior Marco Mariscal, a sidewinding southpaw, pitched out of the pen exclusively last year, a role he will again fill this coming spring. Behind those returning pitchers are three freshmen hurlers who are just as exciting as their predecessors.
Thomas Olson was a first team all-league pitcher as a senior at Manhattan (Kan.) High and has big stuff despite his modest size (5-10, 175). This past summer, Olson flashed a mid-80s fastball with a sharp curveball, striking out 91 in 55 innings of work. Another young pitcher fans will want to keep an eye on is 6-4 Floridian Chris England '15. England hails from the same high school as teammate Ryan Tamil and will give the team quality innings early in his career. Rookie right-hander Nick Nelson helped his team to a 22-8 record and a state championship while left-hander Adam Frank finished his senior year of high school with a strong record, sporting a 4-1 mark and striking out 79 in 51 innings on his way to being named the pitcher of the year in his region. Those numbers were rewarded when the Oakland A's selected Frank in the 43rd round of the MLB Draft, making it the fourth year in a row that an incoming recruit was selected in the draft.
Taking up residence behind the plate for a third straight year will be catcher Chris O'Dowd. The switch-hitter enters his junior year eighth on Dartmouth's career batting average list with a .353 mark while launching 13 home runs to date. As a sophomore, the 5-11, 190-pound backstop drove in 23 runs while his 49 runs scored were the most in the Ivy League.
Providing insurance in the event that O'Dowd needs time off behind the plate or is inserted as the DH are two capable replacements. Junior Chad Piersma added strength during a strong summer and could fill in at both catcher and first base. Another intriguing possibility comes in the form of first-year player Matt MacDowell. As a senior, MacDowell was named the Western Maine Conference Co-Player of the Year after hitting .417 with two long balls.
Throughout the team's recent run of success, the Big Green have always been able to count on terrific production at first base from the likes of Jeff Speights '05, Mike Pagliarulo '09 and most recently Jason Brooks '11. This year's team may not have a proven player, but does have a very viable option in sophomore Dustin Selzer. The offensive-minded Selzer served an apprenticeship last year but still appeared in 24 games and accumulated 62 at-bats, smashing a pair of round-trippers. That came after an impressive senior year in high school in which Selzer led the city of Houston in home runs. The aforementioned Piersma also has seen time at first base in practice.
Fans knew of almost one certainty the past four years when filling out a scorecard - Jeff Onstott '11 at second base. And during that time, Onstott helped the team to unprecedented heights. But a healthy list of alternatives is battling for the spot vacated due to Onstott's graduation. Long Island native Thomas Roulis, a two-sport athlete while at Chaminade High School, arrives in Hanover with impressive credentials. After claiming all-state honors in soccer, Roulis moved to the diamond and had equal success, being named the league player of the year and claiming first-team All-Long Island honors. Sophomore Shane Ogren provides added insurance and has the capability to play shortstop as well.
If there is one certainty to the 2012 edition of Dartmouth baseball, it comes from the team's version of the Iron Horse. Two-year captain Joe Sclafani has played in 130 of the 133 games at shortstop since he stepped foot on campus, and has the chance to engrave his name amongst the best players ever to don the uniform. Entering his final year, Sclafani is already in the top 10 all-time in triples (16), runs (134), walks (73) and hits (173). After setting personal highs as a junior with a .349 batting average, 60 hits, 12 doubles and four home runs, Sclafani followed with a summer in which he was an all-star in the Coastal Plains League and was named to Perfect Game's 2011 Summer Collegiate All-Star Team.
Freshman Matt Parisi hails from the Sunshine State and is the most obvious replacement should Sclafani need some down time. On the field, Parisi is a sure-handed fielder with a strong arm that would allow him to see action at second and third base as well.
Youth will once again be the theme at the final infield position, as the hot corner will be manned by a fourth player in as many years by a pair of hopefuls. Freshman Californian Nick Lombardi, who hails from the same fall baseball program that produced Erik Bell '08 and Brooks, hit .310 a year ago and finished second on his team in home runs and third in RBIs. Classmate Jay Graham, on the other hand, hit. .369 as a junior in high school and saw time at first base in the fall.
A place of true excitement for the upcoming season could be in the outfield, where Dartmouth could trot out the most athletic group of players that fans have seen in recent memory.
The holdovers from last year are seniors Jake Carlson and David Turnbull. A fixture in center field since his first year, Carlson was flawless in the field last year and has become one of the elite defenders in the Ivy League during his tenure. A career .288 hitter, Carlson honed his skills alongside Sclafani in the Coastal Plains League this past summer, finishing in the top 20 in the league with a .313 average. Flanking Carlson in right field for the good majority of last year was Turnbull as the switch-hitter set career highs in at bats (136) and RBIs (19) during his junior spring.
The vacancy in left field with the graduation of Sam Bean '11 has a collection of candidates looking to have their names inscribed next to it. Sophomore Jeff Keller spent his first year at third base and is now making the move back to his natural position. The Big Green's 2011 Rookie of the Year, Keller hit .321 with nine doubles and a pair of four-baggers, but was slowed by a back injury that appears to have healed completely.
Vying for time alongside those three are a pair of left-handed hitters as well as a two-sport athlete. Ryan Toimil was limited in time as a freshman, due in large part to a season ending hand injury against Princeton. Matt Robinson, a heralded high school quarterback, missed much of his senior year due to an arm injury that has healed. The lanky freshman swung the bat well in fall baseball and can play any of the three outfield positions. A starting wide receiver for the Big Green football team in the fall, Bo Patterson brings speed and terrific outfield instincts to the squad and will try to catch up for lost time from the fall at the plate.
Don't forget junior Ennis Coble, the team's designated hitter who also saw time at second base and left field. His versatility has been on display for two years, seeing action at third base as a rookie as well. When he isn't DHing, he could add a fourth spot to his résumé at first base. No matter what position he plays, Coble's potent left-handed stick will be in the lineup, anywhere from leadoff to sixth in the order.
Dartmouth opens the season with a big test at perennial power LSU, playing three games at fabled Alex Box Stadium over the first weekend of March. After a break for finals, the Big Green face another arduous task with a nine-game trip in California against Sacramento State, Cal Poly and UC Irvine. Upon returning from the West Coast, the 24-game home win streak will face its first test against Amherst on March 28.
The Ivy League opener will be a rematch of last year's Ivy Championship Series with Dartmouth traveling to Princeton for a twinbill on March 31. Along with the usual conference games, the Green will also take on Boston College, Holy Cross, Quinnipiac and Hartford. And if Dartmouth can win its fifth straight Rolfe Division title, the Big Green will once again vie for the Ivy crown during the first weekend of May.—