The Harvard baseball team turned in its best performance of the year Saturday.
Unfortunately, that effort didn't translate into enough wins to keep its post-season hopes afloat.
The Crimson needed to sweep Saturday and Sunday doubleheaders against Ivy frontrunner Dartmouth (28-12, 17-3) to stay alive in the race for the Red Rolfe division crown. Harvard has won the Rolfe division the last four years.
The odds looked bleak, as Harvard was stuck in a five game losing streak while the Big Green had won 12 in a row coming into the weekend.
Instead, in a tremendous team effort, Harvard won the first game at O'Donnell Field 10-5 before losing a 3-2 eleven-inning heartbreaker in the second.
Clearly suffering a letdown from the loss Saturday, the Crimson (16-23, 9-9) dropped both games at Dartmouth yesterday, 9-3 and 11-0.
"We didn't put enough heart into it," junior pitcher John Birtwell said of Sunday's performance. "It was a heartbreaking loss yesterday. It's tough rebounding from a loss like that."
Despite losing three out of four
to the Big Green, players focused on their exceptional performance Saturday.
"We played maybe our best baseball of the season," junior Scott Carmack said. "Everyone was enthusiastic and everyone was playing for each other."
After the series, players were reflective about a season which some said was marred by underachievement.
"I believe the team was underachieving for most of the year," Birtwell said. "We come to play certain days, and the next day, for whatever reason we don't seem to play as well."
Captain Erik Binkowski said the team would not have found itself in its late-season hole had it played with more effort.
"We played the best two games we played all year [Saturday]," Binkowski said. "If we would've played that way in the six other games we lost in the Ivy League, yesterday's game would not have been the knife that drew blood."
Dartmouth 11, Harvard 0
The Crimson was never in the final game of the weekend series. The Big Green's rout was led by a tremendous pitching performance by sophomore John Velosky.
Veloscy held the Crimson hitless for 6 2/3 innings before Crimson catcher Brian Lentz broke up the no-hit attempt with a grounder through the infield. In all, Veloscy pitched eight innings allowing only two hits.
"We've made a lot of these pitchers throughout the year into superstars," Birtwell added.
Losing pitcher Mike Dryden left after surrendering three runs in four innings. The bullpen could not keep the game close, however, as Dartmouth erupted for four runs in the sixth, putting an end to the Crimson's hopes.
Dartmouth 9, Harvard 3
For the first time in over four years, the Crimson played a game already knowing its title hopes were dashed. As a result, the Crimson could not match the intensity it displayed in the first two games.
"Everybody just showed up a little flat," Carmack said. "We didn't bring our A-game."
Harvard took a brief 1-0 lead in the top of the first but fell behind quickly, as the Big Green exploded for three runs in both the second and third innings.
Dartmouth catcher Mike Levy led the onslaught with a 3-for-3, four-RBI effort. Designated hitter Mike Mileusnic also was perfect, going 4-for-4 and scoring three runs.
Dartmouth 3, Harvard 2
The Crimson faced a formidable task in this game, with Big Green ace Conor Brooks taking the mound. Brooks, the likely Ivy League Pitcher of the Year, came in with a 7-1 record and averaged over a strikeout an inning.
By contrast, the Crimson would have to rely on freshman Kenon Ronz, who was making only his third start of his collegiate career.
Ronz (1-3) shocked the Big Green with a remarkable performance. Showing outstanding control with his fastball and curve, Ronz matched Brooks pitch-for-pitch for ten innings. Ronz gave up two runs in the first, then held the Green scoreless for a full nine innings before surrendering the winning run in the eleventh.
"His effort on Saturday was maybe the best pitching effort we've had all year," Carmack said. "Except for the first inning, he was almost perfect."
A leadoff double by Big Green shortstop Matthew Klentak in the eleventh forced Ronz out of the game. After advancing to third on a foul out, Klentak scored the wining run on a sacrifice fly off Harvard pitcher Justin Myweide.
Harvard threatened in the bottom of the inning, but second baseman Faiz Shakir grounded out to end the game, stranding a runner on second.
Brooks pitched all 11 innings, striking out 12 while walking only two.
After falling behind 2-0 early, Harvard came back behind two unearned runs. The Crimson scored one in the sixth, and then tied the score with two outs in the bottom of the ninth when leftfielder Joe Llanes scored on a fielding error by Dartmouth third baseman Brian Nickerson.
Harvard had plenty of opportunities in the game, stranding seven runners in scoring position.
"A lot of the guys were guess hitting, and that doesn't help anybody," Binkowski said.
Ronz said the challenge of facing Brooks was not a factor his performance.
"He really has no effect on me," Ronz said. "If you get scared of the opposition you're going to lose anyway."
Harvard 10, Dartmouth 5
Harvard came out Saturday with an intensity it had not displayed all season in handing Dartmouth its first loss in 13 games.
"We played hard, which was something we hadn't done all year," Binkowski said. "We were able to win the game as a team instead of a couple of individuals winning as themselves."
The game started ominously, as the first four Dartmouth players reached on soft singles off of Birtwell, scoring a run. But after a meeting on the mound, Birtwell pitched out of a bases-loaded, no out jam.
The next batter hit into a 6-4-3 double play, and Birtwell got the next hitter to ground out, escaping the inning after giving up only two runs.
The Crimson roared back in the bottom of the inning, batting around for five runs. The explosion was highlighted by designated hitter Scott Hopps' three-run double to deep left-center.
Nickerson brought Dartmouth within one with a two-run homer to left in the third. He gave the runs right back the next inning, when his two-out, bases-loaded throwing error off a short grounder by Harvard shortstop Mark Mager allowed two runs to score. Mager was officially credited with a hit on the play.
Harvard extended its lead in the fifth, scoring two runs on four hits. Sloppy fielding hurt the Big Green here too, when Lentz scored on a dropped pop fly to right field.
After Dartmouth scored a run in the sixth, the Crimson got another run in the bottom of the inning on sophomore third baseman Nick Carter's RBI single, producing the final score.
Birtwell pitched all seven innings for the Crimson, surrendering five runs, four of them earned, on nine hits.
"Birtwell pitched an outstanding game without having his best stuff," Ronz said. "His performance really gave us good vibes in the dugout."
Harvard will play Vermont at home tomorrow afternoon, and then head to Umass for a 3 p.m. game against Minutemen.