June 5, 2010

Courtesy of Dartmouth Athletics

CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Junior Jason Brooks tied a career high with six RBIs, including a tie-breaking grand slam, and freshman Zack Bellenger crushed a pair of home runs to lead fourth-seeded Dartmouth past the third seed, FIU, in an elimination game at the NCAA Regional at Alex Rodriguez Park on Saturday, 15-9. The victory was the first in an NCAA Regional for the Big Green (27-18) in 23 years and the first for an Ivy League school since Princeton won a game in 2004.

The last time Dartmouth won a regional game was in 1987 when Mike Remlinger shut out Michigan in the first game of the Northeast Regional in Atlanta, 4-0.

Panther sophomore Garrett Wittels extended his hitting streak to 56 games with a first-inning double, but he will have to wait until the 2011 season to see if he can break Robin Ventura’s Division I record of 58 as FIU finished the season with a 36-25 mark.

While Brooks and Bellenger led the Dartmouth offense in a game filled with hitting stars — every Big Green batter recorded at least one of the team’s 17 hits — it was sophomore Cole Sulser who provided a sense of sanity on the mound with five innings of relief to earn his Ivy-leading eighth victory of the season without a defeat. He surrendered just two runs on five hits after entering the game to start the third with the Big Green trailing by four runs. He issued just one walk and fanned four to increase his strikeout total to 60 on the season, also tops in the Ivy League. After Sulser made quick work of FIU in his first inning of work, Dartmouth battled back from a 6-2 deficit. Junior Sam Bean was hit by a pitch with one out and went to single on a single by Chris O'Dowd. Brooks drove in a run with a single to left and went to second when O’Dowd aggressively advanced to third. A wild pitch by Panther starter Aaron Arboleya allowed O’Dowd to score, although he nearly was thrown out when he tiptoed his way to the plate. Senior Jim Wren followed with an RBI single between first and second, chasing Arboleya. Bellenger then greeted reliever Corey Polizzano with a home run into the palm trees to left-center for a 7-6 Dartmouth lead.

FIU took the lead for the third time in the game with a pair of runs in the fifth. Yoandy Barroso tied the game with two out with his fourth home run of the year, and three consecutive singles — the last by catcher Sean Reilly — brought home the go-ahead run.

Bellenger tied the game at eight in the fifth with a long, two-out home run off Polizzano again to straight-away center, his seventh of the year.

In the sixth, Dartmouth loaded the bases with singles by senior Brett Gardner, Bean and O’Dowd, the last of which was a pop-up lost in the sun by the first baseman. That pop fly would have been the third out, but with new life, Brooks jumped on the first pitch and launched his first career grand slam over the scoreboard in left for a 12-8 Big Green advantage.

Sulser, meanwhile, settled back in and held the Panther bats in check, retiring the side in order in the sixth before escaping a jam in the seventh. With one out and men at first and second, Raiko Alfonso hit a sinking humpback liner to right-center which both sophomore Jake Carlson in center and Gardner in right dove for headfirst. The ball fell due to the collision, but Carlson was able to keep his wits about him and get a force at second base for the second out. After Gardner — who took the brunt of the collision — shook off the effects, Sulser caught pinch hitter Rudy Flores looking at strike three on a full-count pitch.

The Big Green tacked on three more in the bottom half of the seventh on a two-out RBI single by Gardner and Bean’s second double of the game that allowed both Gardner and sophomore Joe Sclafani to score, the latter when the center fielder kicked the ball trying to cut it off in the left-center gap.

With five innings under his belt in the stifling heat and humidity, Dartmouth head coach turned to freshman Kyle Hunter for the final two frames. Wittels collected a harmless two-out single in the eighth (his 100th hit of the season), but Mike Martinez sent a screamer over the fence to start the ninth for his ninth long ball of the year. Unphased, Hunter gave up just an infield hit before striking out the side to end the game with a flourish.

FIU roughed up Dartmouth senior starter Robert Young early in the game as Wittels drove in the first run of the contest in the first inning with his double to extend his famous streak. The Big Green responded with two in their half when Sclafani led off with a single, scored on Bean’s first double, and two groundouts allowed Bean to touch the plate.

Five second-inning Panther runs were discouraging, with a two-run homer by Tim Jobe and back-to-back-to-back doubles being the key blows. But Dartmouth ended up rebounding for its 17th comeback victory of the year, equaling the largest deficit it has overcome this season.

Bean and Carlson led the Big Green with three hits apiece while the former scored three times and drove in two. Bean is now 7-for-9 and reached base in eight of his 10 plate appearances in the regional. Brooks, who is now second in the Ivy League with 48 RBIs, drove in six runs for the second time this season, having plated six Big Green runs in a 9-0 win over Harvard back on May 2. He is the first Dartmouth player to collect six RBIs in a game in six years.

The Panthers had 16 hits of their own, with Wittels, Barroso and Jobe amassing three apiece.

Polizzano (4-5) took the loss, yielding six runs in 3.2 innings on seven hits, but did strike out five.

Dartmouth will play the loser of the Miami-Texas A&M game taking place late this afternoon. The Big Green lost to Miami in the first round of the regional yesterday, 12-8, and has never played the Aggies.