Crimson, Big Green Duel for Title

Different sport, same two schools once again battling with high stakes on the line-- this Thursday's doubleheader between the Harvard women's softball team (16-18, 9-0 Ivy) and Dartmouth (25-11, 8-2) will determine whether the Crimson will put together its second perfect Ivy season in three years, or be come the fourth women's sports at Harvard this year to have its championship dreams ruined head-to-head against the Big Green.

This has been a banner year for Big Green women's sports, much to the chagrin of Harvard's women's basketball, hockey and field hockey teams.

Dartmouth softball wasn't supposed to be this good this year. Harvard, perennial-power Princeton, and defending champ Cornell were supposed to the teams at the top. The Big Green was coming off of a 2-10, last-place finish. But in this landmark year for Dartmouth sports, it seems like anything can happen.

The Crimson and the Big Green are the only two teams still mathematically alive for the Ivy title.

The Ivy struggles of Cornell (26-15, 3-6) have been a huge surprise. The Big Red got off to a fast 17-4 start in non-conference play, earning the team a the No. 9 spot in the Northeast Region softball rankings.

Then came the Ivy opener against the Crimson. Harvard upended the Big Red at home 1-0 on a solo home run by Deborah Abeles off of Cornell ace Nicole Zitarelli, right before the game was cut short in the sixth due to rain.

Zitarelli hasn't been the same pitcher since then. After posting a 21-3 record last year and an 11-1 record to start the season, since that Harvard loss she has been a dismal 2-7.

Princeton (19-25, 6-6) watched its Ivy season come to an end last weekend with four straight league losses, one pair to Dartmouth and another pair to the Crimson.

This season should have been better for the Tigers. They had high hopes a month ago, with Ivy ERA leader Sarah Peterman returning to start the season.

But there is a simple reason why Princeton failed to beat Dartmouth: Big Green freshman hurler Christine Quattrocchi.

Her stats are eye-popping: 17-2 record, 1.10 ERA, 17 complete games and seven shutouts. She has earned three of the five Ivy Pitcher of the Week awards thus far this season.

Her impressive stats may a bit misleading, however. Dartmouth has a non-conference schedule loaded with weak teams -Division 2 schools like UMass-Lowell and Stony Brook -a sharp contrast to the Crimson's non-conference schedule which included 1998 NCAA champion Fresno State.

The rest of Dartmouth's team has formed a solid foundation around the freshman ace. Sophomores Sarah Damon and Kristen King were the No. 2 and No. 3 hitters in the Ivy league last season, and this year they are leading the Big Green in hitting once again.

Harvard has already seen enough of Kristen King this year. In the ECAC women's hockey semifinals this March, she scored the first goal in Dartmouth's 3-2 overtime upset that abruptly ended the Crimson's season.

King is not the only women's hockey player on the softball team - in fact, there are five. Juniors Carrie Sekela and Liz Macri and freshmen Carly Haggard, Lydia Wheatley are the others.

Sekela scored the second goal of that 3-2 Harvard loss, putting in the rebound of a Macri slapshot. Sekela, the Big Green's starting catcher, is the only hockey player besides King that gets a significant amount of playing time. She has suffered from mental lapses during games since the hockey season ended, hitting a paltry .189 in 20 games this season.

Harvard has one women's hockey player on its roster-senior Crystal Springer-starting goaltender by winter and third-baseman by spring.

Although King and Sekela played a crucial role to the disappointing end to her hockey career, the revenge factor plays only a secondary role in Springer's mind.

"Beating them would be nice," Springer said. "But I think of them as two completely separate teams. The fact that Dartmouth is our top competition in the Ivy is the No. 1reason to beat them."

Springer has shown absolutely no ill effects from her delayed entrance to the softball season. She is presently the Crimson's leading hitter, with an average that has flirted with the .500 mark.

"I come into the season so late off of hockey, I feel like I'm playing catchup with the rest of the players," Springer said.

Springer refuses to allow Harvard's recent Ivy success to make her team overconfident on Thursday.

"We haven't won anything yet," Springer notes.

The Harvard-Dartmouth doubleheader will begin at 3:00 Thursday at Soldier's field. With even a split Harvard would clinch the Ivy title.

The Crimson bats have been on fire throughout the Ivy season, outscoring opponents 70-20 in the eight league games since the Cornell win.

Harvard will be more capable of inflating Quattrocchi's 1.20 ERA than any opponent she has faced thus far.

Should Dartmouth sweep, the weekend make-up games against Cornell would then determine the Ivy title. But the Crimson can't let that happen. It's time for Dartmouth women's sports to be dealt a swift reality check.