CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Taking a 3-2 lead into the eighth inning at the NCAA Regional hosted by the University of Miami, the Dartmouth Big Green saw their upset hopes dashed when 20th-ranked Texas A&M smashed a solo home run in each of the last two innings to steal a 4-3 win on Sunday afternoon. Joe Patterson tied the game with his opposite-field blast to left in the eighth and Kevin Gonzalez lined his game-winner to left in the ninth to send the Aggies (42-20-1) to a showdown with the 11th-ranked Hurricanes (42-17) late on Sunday afternoon.
Dartmouth (27-19) got a terrific start from freshman left-hander Kyle Hunter, who held Texas A&M to just two runs, one earned, over 6.1 innings. Pitching in his home state, the native of Palm City allowed just four hits and walked two while equaling his career high with seven strikeouts the day after hurling the final two innings of a 15-9 victory over FIU.
Hunter exited in the seventh after walking Caleb Shofner with one out as junior closer Ryan Smith was summoned to get the final eight outs. A sacrifice bunt put the tying run in scoring position, but Smith escaped the inning by getting Scott Arthur to fly harmlessly to center.
Texas A&M relief ace John Stilson took to the mound to begin the seventh to keep the Aggie deficit at one, striking out two hitters in the inning sandwiched around a walk. But sophomore Joe Sclafani was nabbed trying to steal second to keep Dartmouth from a golden opportunity to get an insurance run.
Smith retired the first two batters in the eighth on a strikeout and a foul pop before Patterson hit an 0-1 fastball up and away about 10 feet over the left-field fence for his eighth four-bagger of the year, tying the game at three. It was just the sixth blown save in 30 chances in the career of the Ivy League’s all-time saves leader.
Stilson threw two pitches in the eighth before a storm forced a stoppage in play and delayed the game for one hour and seven minutes. But Stilson did not show any ill-effects from the delay, continuing to fire away with mid-90s fastballs and a devastating change-up. The Big Green did get a pair of runners on base with infield singles by freshmen Chris O'Dowd and Zack Bellenger. With runners on the corners and two out, sophomore Jake Carlson hit a bouncer to the right of second base that Adam Smith back-handed and looked to second for a force to end the inning. But shortstop Brodie Green did not cover the bag, so Smith had to adjust and throw to first, where his one-hop throw was scooped by Patterson just to nip the speedy center fielder hustling down the line.
Freshman Chris O'Dowd cruises into second after stroking a double in the fifth to knock out Texas A&M starter Clayton Ehlert. Photo courtesy Richard Lewis
In the ninth, Gonzalez — who entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the seventh and struck out against Hunter — worked the count full leading off before teeing off on a high fastball for his eight homer of the season, giving Texas A&M the 4-3 lead. Smith (3-2) quickly retired the next three hitters and Dartmouth came to the plate with one last chance to keep its season alive.
The first two batters struck out against Stilson, but Sclafani was able to work another walk against the right-hander. Sclafani was put into scoring position when junior Sam Bean’s liner to left fell in front of Arthur. Up to the plate came the Ivy League co-Rookie of the Year in O’Dowd, who was hitting .582 (32-for-55) this year from the fifth inning on. He fouled a pitch straight back before Stilson missed off the plate with an offering to even the count at 1-1. O’Dowd took a rip and fouled a pitch straight back again, then spoiled a change-up down and away by poking it foul. Stilson came right back with 97-mile-an-hour heat and got the rookie to swing through the pitch to end the game in dramatic fashion.
The Aggies jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first with an unearned run. Lead-off hitter Joaquin Hinojosa reached second on a throwing error to start the game, but failed to move up on a bunt back to Hunter on the mound. After Brodie Greene’s hard smash to third could not be handled for a base hit, Brandon Wood ran for Hinojosa who still stood on second base. Hunter fanned Patterson for the second out, but Matt Juengel looped a double to right to plate the pinch runner Wood.
In the third, Texas A&M made it a 2-0 ball game when Brodie Green hit a no-doubter out to left for his team-leading 13th jack of the year, about the only mistake Hunter made all afternoon.
Joe Sclafani congratulates Zack Bellenger and Jim Wren after they scored on Brett Gardner's two-run single, giving Dartmouth a 3-2 lead. Photo courtesy Richard Lewis
The Big Green took advantage of some sloppy defense in the fourth to score all three of their runs. Junior Jason Brooks hit a one-out single back through the box off starter Clayton Ehlert, but senior Jim Wren hit a seemingly double-play grounder to Adam Smith at second. But his throw to second for the force sailed high into left field, putting the tying runs on second and third with just one out. Bellenger walked on a full-count pitch to load the bases, then Carlson dropped a bloop to right for an RBI single. Ehlert got the second out on a called third strike, but senior Brett Gardner came through with the clutch two-out hit, a line shot to left, plating two runs for a 3-2 Dartmouth lead. The score remained that way until Patterson’s game-tying shot in the eighth.
Stilson (9-1) earned the victory with three scoreless frames, giving up three singles and walking two, but striking out six. Reliever Shane Minks was also very effective in relief of Ehlert, retiring all five batters he faced, fanning four. The three Aggie pitchers combined to strike out a total of 16 Big Green hitters, the most times Dartmouth has struck out all season.
O’Dowd went 2-for-5 in each of the three games at the regional, collecting two of Dartmouth’s seven knocks in the game with a single and a double. Brooks extended his modest hitting streak to 10 with his fourth-inning single.
The 27 wins for Dartmouth are tied for the second most in a season in the program’s history, tying last year’s squad and finishing just two shy of the school record of 29 set in 2000.
Texas A&M needs to win this evening to force a do-or-die game tomorrow night against Miami at 7 p.m. The winner of the regional will advance to the super regionals which will be played next weekend.