‘Small but mighty’ Dartmouth softball stays competitive in Ivy play

By BENJAMIN ROSENBERG

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 04-20-2023 6:20 PM

HANOVER — If the Dartmouth College softball team’s dugout looks unusually empty when the Big Green are on the field, that’s because it is.

With just 14 players on its roster, Dartmouth is easily the smallest team in the Ivy League, with none of the other seven squads carrying fewer than 18 players. But as the Big Green (12-17, 6-6 Ivy) head into the stretch run in conference play, coach Jen Williams feels like that’s enough.

“We’ve focused on being small but mighty. That’s been the theme for the whole year,” Williams said. “You’re better off having a team that’s all on the same page about what they want and how they want to get there in order to achieve what we want to achieve this year. This group is going to give us the best shot to meet our goals.”

Dartmouth’s pitching depth is especially thin. Coming off a third-place finish in 2022, the Big Green lost ace left-hander Brooke Plonka to graduation, as well as Madie Augusto, who made seven appearances in Ivy League play. With Megan Hagge, a freshman last year, no longer on the team, sophomore Rachel McCarroll came in as the staff’s only returner.

McCarroll has risen to the task and then some. After pitching to a 5.03 ERA in 53 innings as a freshman, the right-hander from San Jose, Calif. has a 2.95 mark in 121 innings this spring. Her workload has only increased since the start of conference play — she’s tossed nearly 65% of Dartmouth’s innings against Ancient Eight foes, and she has appeared in 24 out of 29 games overall with 18 starts.

“It’s been a big change, but it’s not anything I wasn’t ready for,” McCarroll said. “I did a really good job preparing myself in the offseason, getting into the best physical and mental headspace I could in order to come out here and do what I do.”

Freshman Stella Bale looked like a promising addition early in the season, but she has allowed 12 earned runs over her last three appearances, covering just 3⅔ innings. So Williams tapped junior Izzy Kam, who pitched in high school and travel ball but was exclusively a position player last season, to join the pitching staff. Kam has delivered with a 2.88 ERA in 24⅓ innings — all since March 31.

Kam made just her second start Wednesday against Merrimack, tossing four innings of one-hit ball and earning the win. Peyton Kanaly, another freshman, has made just three appearances, all in relief between March 17 and March 24.

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“Rachel, we know she was a really mentally tough kid. She’s just shown such grit this year,” Williams said. “Izzy Kam has stepped up and done what she needed to do for us to help us get through the season. It was great to be able to get her back throwing again.”

Offensively, Dartmouth has seen its team OPS rise nearly 100 points since the start of Ivy play after facing some higher-level competition at tournaments in Florida and Mississippi and a spring break trip to northern California. The Big Green have gone with an old-school lineup with two freshman slappers, Ashley Frantz and Lauren Ben-Ezra, at the top to set the table for the power bats in the middle of the order.

Those power bats — junior first baseman Kelly Beaupre, sophomore left fielder Alaana Panu and senior shortstop Kate Farren — have driven most of the Big Green’s run production in conference play.

Panu delivered two walk-off hits, including a grand slam, to help Dartmouth sweep Penn to open its Ivy League slate. Farren was 6-for-10 with two home runs in last weekend’s series win at Brown, and Beaupre homered twice and drove in seven runs in one of those victories over the Bears. The three of them, plus junior catcher Mary Beth Cahalan, have combined to hit 18 of the Big Green’s 19 homers this season.

“I had a really good weekend. It was super fun,” Farren said. “I obviously hit a stride, and I’m hoping to bring that the rest of the season as well.”

Dartmouth has experienced both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat since coming back to the Northeast. After the dramatic sweep over the Quakers, the Big Green were swept themselves at Columbia, dropping both ends of a doubleheader in extra innings. But Dartmouth had some extra-inning magic of its own upon returning home to face Harvard, with senior third baseman Maria Angelino’s walk-off single in the eighth giving them a 2-1 win in the series opener.

The Big Green lost the last two against the Crimson, who currently share first place with Princeton. Dartmouth is in fourth, which would put the Big Green in the newly expanded four-team Ivy League tournament if they can stay there. Previously, only the top two teams played a championship series to determine the Ivy League’s bid to the NCAA tournament, and Dartmouth was all but out of the running for that last year after a narrow series loss to Harvard.

This weekend’s trip to Yale is critical — the Bulldogs are just a half-game behind the Big Green for that fourth spot. Following a midweek doubleheader at Holy Cross, Dartmouth welcomes in Princeton for its final home series before closing the regular season at Cornell.

“In order to get to that four-team tournament, we have to work on composure,” Williams said. “We need to learn how to score runners with timely hits, (and) we need to continue to build our pitching and make sure our pitchers are coming out strong right away. We are starting to get some momentum in exactly the direction we want this time of year.”

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

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