The Harvard baseball team, dizzied by recent success in EIBL action, found its drive toward a league title unexpectedly slowed by the Penn pitching staff yesterday at Soldiers Field. The Crimson bats fell silent as the Quakers swept the doubleheader, 8-0 and 8-1.
As a result, the Crimson (9-11 overall, 5-3 league) must win nine of its 10 remaining league games to force a playoff game with Penn (12-4 league) for the EIBL crown. With Penn lying dormant during its exam period, a sweep of those games would give Harvard the title outright.
"We're still in control of our destiny," said Co-Captain Frank Caprio. "We just have to forget about this and go on."
The Crimson squad surely would like to erase the memory of Judd Damon (5-3) and Chad Smith (3-1), the two Quaker righthanders who stifled the Harvard offense. Damon, in fact, was a nightmare that haunted the Harvard nine in both ends of the twinbill.
Upon first sight of Damon, the voracious Crimson licked its collective lips. In warmups he conceded a lack of power by throwing an array of timid breaking balls. Marcel Durand, the Crimson leadoff batter made the hurler look even more vulnerable when he laced a single into right field. But for the next eight-and-one-third innings, Damon was untouchable.
Damon threw few enough pitches that Penn Head Coach Bob Seddon elected to start the sophomore in the nightcap.
"I figured that if we could get a couple of solid innings from him, it would help the rest of the staff," Seddon said.
Damon struck out five batters in the first and one in the second, but more importantly, he kept most of the hit balls on the ground. The Penn infield is virtually impregnable, having allowed only 36 errors this season. The ground balls also relieved the fielders, frequently befuddled by the circling winds.
The Quakers exploded early, scoring three in the first off of freshman righty Jon Biotti. Yet it was in the second that the Quaker run seemed to deflate the expansive hopes of Harvard.
With one out, Penn third baseman Brian Shortell took Biotti deep to center field, ending up with a standup triple. The Yardling worked the next batter, center fielder Tom Charters, to a 2-and-1 count. Shortell then took advantage of the Bird's involved windup and broke for the plate. The fastball arrived down the middle, but it was good only for a strike as Shortell slid in safe for a stolen base and Penn's fourth run.
"I didn't see him," said catcher Co-Captain Frank Morelli. "Someone yelled but it was too late."
Damon proceeded to establish a rhythm that the batsmen could not disrupt. In the final four innings of the first game, Penn faced the minimum of Harvard batters.
The Nightmare Continues
Caprio ended the drought in the second inning of the next game. Damon put third baseman Aron Allen aboard with a free pass, and Caprio moved him to second with a drive into right. Dave O'Connell followed with a sacrifice fly to right. Penn rightfielder Jason Psirogianes tried to nail Allen tagging up from second, but his errant throw allowed Aron to score and Caprio to advance to second.
At that point, Harvard trailed, 4-1, but with the possibility of Penn's ace going in the hole. Damon quelled those doubts momentarily as he retired the next two batters. He was pulled for Smith, a lanky freshman who was throwing over his catcher's head in the bullpen.
Smith (3-1) had little problem with location in the real game. His first foe, freshman Ted Decareau, exited the box on a called third strike. Smith fanned the next two batters to strike out the side.
Caprio and Decareau tapped out singles later in the game, but otherwise Smith was perfect.
"We've got to give all the credit to their pitching," Morelli said. "They just shut us down."
Shutting opponents down is now the task of the Crimson. After a Greater Boston League game at MIT on Wednesday, the batsmen trek down the EIBL path for two weekend doubleheaders against Columbia and Army.
"Who knows, maybe its better now that we lost," Morelli added. "Now we know exactly what we have to do. We still have a shot but it's going to be tough."
Amidst its celebration, the Penn squad knew that it was now powerless to determine the outcome of the league race.
"All we can do is sit and wait," Seddon said. "Harvard's a good team. We're a good team. Maybe we'll see them in the playoff. Maybe they'll win it all."
And while the Crimson was not able to spark up a rally yesterday, its hopes for an Eastern crown are far from exstinguished.
"Baseball is just fun," Caprio said. "Sometimes the ball drops, sometimes it doesn't. We're not out of it."