Dartmouth baseball’s struggles stretch on, matching longest losing streak ever

By BENJAMIN ROSENBERG

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 04-10-2023 6:42 PM

HANOVER — Following a season in which the Dartmouth College baseball team won six of its seven Ivy League series and finished in third place, the Big Green were pegged for the No. 3 spot again in the 2023 preseason poll and even received a first-place vote.

Optimism was understandably high, especially after Dartmouth concluded the 2022 season by taking two out of three from conference champion Columbia, a team that advanced to an NCAA regional final.

This year, finishing third would put the Big Green in the Ivy League Tournament, which was expanded to four teams this season from just a two-team championship series.

But instead, Dartmouth is making history for the wrong reasons.

Sunday’s 9-1 home loss to Harvard was the Big Green’s 16th in a row, which matches the longest skid in program history.

At 1-23 overall and 0-9 in conference play, it’s been a hard, sudden fall in coach Bob Whalen’s 34th season as Dartmouth’s skipper.

“I come into every season the same way. I expect us to be good, and I really mean that,” Whalen said. “If you don’t, the players feel that vibe. You look at your team, and you assume they’re going to play to the level of their ability.

“You always feel like that’s going to be enough to be really competitive, and most times it is, and sometimes not.”

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

The Big Green did lose several key contributors, including two-thirds of last season’s regular starters in conference games. Two-way player Justin Murray, who also batted .348 and slugged .528 in conference play last year, was out of Ivy League eligibility and transferred to Houston. Nathan Skinner also graduated and is now pursuing a master’s in forensic science at The George Washington University. Dartmouth also lost the 2022 Ivy League Player of the Year, outfielder Kade Kretzschmar, who now plays for Cal as a graduate transfer.

Those departures left the Big Green thin on pitching depth entering this spring. Fifth-year Trystan Sarcone is the only holdover in the starting rotation, and after leading the staff with a 4.85 ERA last season including a 3.60 mark in conference play, the left-hander has a 9.58 ERA through seven starts in 2023.

Senior righty Jack Metzger leads Dartmouth with 39⅔ innings pitched, and although his 7.26 ERA was inflated by one blow-up start against Holy Cross, it’s still not a mark that will put teams in position to win many games.

“We were really confident heading into this year. We had a great team last year,” Sarcone said. “We lost a bunch of guys, but we had a lot of talent up and down the lineup and the pitching staff. I still feel that way; we just have to put them together at the same time. We haven’t really done that yet consistently.”

The Big Green’s offensive production is also down significantly, and it certainly hasn’t helped to have starters missing at key positions. Junior shortstop Tyler Cox, whose 2022 batting average of .402 ranked 10th nationally, has missed the last seven games, and junior catcher Nathan Cmeyla, a .301 hitter and .515 slugger last season, has not played since March 14. Whalen said both players are “unavailable” after Sunday’s game without elaborating further.

Senior third baseman Connor Bertsch, a year after batting .331 with an on-base-plus-slugging just shy of .900, has a .132 average with just two extra-base hits. Dartmouth’s home run leader last year, outfielder Kolton Freeman, has not gone deep in 67 at-bats in 2023, and his OPS has fallen by nearly 300 points.

“Obviously, very little has gone according to plan,” Whalen said. “Some roster issues that we’ve had and some injuries, it’s necessitated us to move a bunch of pieces around the board.”

Dartmouth played a challenging non-conference schedule, opening against a ranked Miami team and later taking on South Florida, UCF and Jacksonville over spring break. But the Big Green have continued to flounder since coming back north, suffering sweeps at the hands of Princeton, Penn and Harvard. In the latest RPI, which ranks all 305 Division I teams with a heavy emphasis on strength of schedule, Dartmouth came in at No. 298.

That said, there were encouraging signs coming out of the series with the Crimson. In Saturday’s first game, Metzger pitched eight innings of two-run ball, holding Harvard scoreless after a first-inning home run. Later that day, Sarcone made his best start of the year, allowing three runs over seven strong innings, and both exited in line for the win.

“The last couple outings, I’ve been getting back to pitching the way I used to pitch,” Sarcone said. “Keeping hitters more off-balance and being less predictable, and relying on my best pitches, which are my slider and my change-up. I’m happy about it, but I wish we could have pulled that one out.”

Once the bullpen took over, things immediately took a turn for the worse.

In the opener, junior Shane Bauer entered to protect a one-run lead in the ninth and allowed all three batters he faced to reach base, and first-year Ivan Hoyt relieved him and promptly gave up a grand slam that made the difference in Harvard’s 6-3 victory.

Thanks to the first two collegiate home runs by sophomore outfielder Jackson Hower and a clutch two-run single by senior second baseman Peter O’Toole, the Big Green led by three after seven in Saturday’s nightcap. But Dartmouth used five pitchers to get through the last two innings as the Crimson scored six runs in the eighth and won, 10-6.

“At points in the year, me included, a lot of guys are kind of afraid to fail,” Sarcone said. “We were putting a little too much pressure on ourselves, trying to be too perfect. We’re Division I baseball players for a reason, so everyone has to believe in themselves and go from there.”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at brosenberg@vnews.com or 603-727-3302.

]]>