It was a second-straight exercise in frustration for Harvard's Eastern champion baseball team in the College World Series of Baseball last weekend, as the Crimson dropped its first two ballgames in the double-elimination tournament to come back to Cambridge empty-handed for the second year in a row.
In losing 4-1 to top-ranked Miami, and 4-2 to Northern Colorado, the Crimson came away as unrewarded as a year ago, but the caliber of the Harvard showing against the cream of the college baseball crop was vastly improved over last June's feeble challenge for the national title.
Last season, the Crimson tied a record for futility, scoring but one run in two games. Only two other times in the 27-year history of the College World Series had a team scored so little in two games. In this year's tournament, the Crimson pushed across three runs on 13 hits in the two games.
In Friday's opening game with Miami, Harvard banged around Hurricane ace Stan Jakubowski (15-2 on the season) convincingly, but was unable to capitalize, on the many scoring opportunities. The Crimson left eight men stranded on base.
Right fielder Dave St. Pierre, third baseman Jim Thomas and catcher Dan Williams slashed two hits apiece, but Harvard was unable to push the runs across as Jakubowski worked out of jams in the second and third innings to escape unscathed.
Harvard actually outhit the Hurricanes nine to seven but Miami made the safeties count, leaving only five men on.
Standout Crimson southpaw Milt Holt had his seven-game winning streak snapped against Miami. Holt, who was in sub-par form, ran into trouble in the middle innings, giving up single runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth.
Leading 1-0 after a first-inning run, Miami boosted the margin to 2-0 in the fourth with Vaughn Flick's home run. In the fifth Hurricane All-American Orlando Gonzales's single sent third baseman Jim Costa home, after Costa had singled and stolen second. In the sixth Holt walked Witt Beckman, gave up a bunt single to Marty Flick to set the stage for a run-scoring single by Wayne Krenchicki.
Jakubowski struggled along, coming up with just enough to work out of each jam, until the sixth inning when Harvard got its sole tally of the contest. St. Pierre tripled after a double by designated hitter Joe Mackey to reprieve, Harvard from a second straight shutout in World Series competition (last year Georgia Southern eliminated the Crimson in an 8-0 shellacking).
Against Northern Colorado the Crimson let a sterling performance by righthander Mike O'Malley go to waste in the 4-2 loss. O'Malley gave up only six, hits and struck out 10, but the Crimson was unable to solve the offerings of Northern Colorado's Rick Thoren, who limited the Crimson to four hits.
O'Malley was undone by a disastrous fourth inning in which the usually sure-handed Crimson defenders committed three errors which led to all four Northern Colorado runs.
N.C.'s Jeff Cheek started O'Malley's nightmare, reaching base via an infield error, and was then sacrificed along. Ron Holmes walked, giving N.C. a two-on, no-out situation. Then Harvard centerfielder Leon Goetz dropped a fly ball and Cheek churned in for the first run when catcher Dan Williams dropped the throw home.
Understandably disheartened by this lack of support, O'Malley then gave up back-to-back singles to Bob DeMeo and Rick Kent, which upped the count to 4-0.
Harvard came back in the late going, eking out single runs in the sixth and seventh off Thoren. In the sixth Mackey reached first on a fielder's choice and rode the singles of St. Pierre and Thomas home to cut the Northern Colorado margin to 4-1.
In the seventh Goetz partially atoned for his costly fielding error by reaching on a N.C. fielding miscue and, when Northern Colorado threw the ball away after Ric LaCivita's single, Goetz scored.
But it was too little and too late for the Crimson, which, despite the Omaha collapse, finished up the season with an impressive 31-11 record. Crimson coach Loyal Park has now taken the Crimson to the College World Series three out of the last four years, and is especially proud that his team even got there this year.
Mired deep in the second division of the Eastern League at mid-season, the Crimson surged into the District I playoffs by snatching 11 wins in the last 12 games of the season, and three straight against New Hampshire and Providence in the District I finals.
Harvard's quick elimination in Omaha once again raised the question whether Eastern teams, shackled with short schedules and hostile early-spring weather conditions, can compete with teams like Miami that can schedule 50-and 60-game seasons to prepare for the World Series showdown. Harvard, unquestionably a class Eastern team, must play against tremendous odds in a tournament in which the other teams have had long seasons to polish and refine their acts.
But this injustice--if one can call it that--aside, the Cinderella climb of Harvard's baseball team from the ash heap of the Eastern League second division to the Omaha College World Series has ended. The 1974 national collegiate baseball champion has yet to be crowned, but for Harvard's Crimson, the midnight chimes have rung.