Despite the blustery fall weather, Harvard softball unofficially began its season this weekend.
The team competed in the First Annual Softball Beanpot, co-hosted by Boston University and Harvard.
The tournament featured the Crimson, B.U., Boston College, and Providence. The teams played a three-game round-robin that determined the seedings for a bracket competition, which crowned the champion.
After going 2-1 in the round-robin portion of the competition, Harvard was the third seed and fell to second-seeded B.C. in the tournament semifinals.
Harvard Coach Jenny Allard relied on the arms of two freshmen against a veteran Eagles team.
“I wanted to get some freshmen out there, and give them some experience,” Allard said. “They responded very well, I think.”
First-years Beth Sabin and Lauren Tanner turned in impressive efforts, according to junior captain Tiffany Whitton.
“I was so impressed with the way the team stepped up this weekend,” Whitton said. “We came out and played really well for a young team.”
Youth is perhaps the most glaring characteristic of this Crimson squad. After recruiting 10 freshmen last year, Allard brought on seven more. Only six of the Crimson’s 23 players have two years of playing experience.
Centerfielder Lauren Stefanchik showed why Allard’s recruiting efforts appear to be paying off.
A slap hitter with tremendous speed, Stefanchik was consistently on base all weekend.
“There’s no question [Lauren’s] a spark, and she’s usually on base,” Allard said. “I’d say she hit over .400 on the tournament.”
Her efforts, as well as a two-run homer from senior outfielder Sarah Koppel, propelled sophomore pitcher Kara Brotemarkle to her first win of the year against Providence on Sunday morning.
Stefanchik had at least one hit in every game, and was called out on four close calls, according to Allard. As a slap hitter, she relies on her tremendous speed to beat out bunts, chops and slow rollers.
“It’s great hitting behind her,” Whitton said. “She’s always on base, and she has the green light to take second.”
Whitton can anticipate a lot more opportunities to drive Stefanchik in. At Montclair Kimberley Academy in New Jersey, Stefanchik batted .736 with 78 hits last spring. Only two of those hits were for extra bases.
All of her hits might as well be doubles, though. Stefanchik holds the national record for stolen bases with 295 swipes. She had a streak of 162 steals without being caught.
“I was happy with the way I played, and definitely with the way the team played,” Stefanchik said. “Even though we don’t have a ton of seniors, the sophomores and juniors bring a lot to the table.”
In Saturday’s games, the Crimson split with B.C. and B.U.
Brotemarkle came out flat against the Terriers, yielding four runs in the first. The Crimson battled back, but lost, 4-2. Tanner was effective in relief for the Crimson, holding B.U. scoreless.
The opener against B.C. was a victorious one for the Crimson. Whitton was stingy on the mound, allowing only one run in six innings of work.
The Crimson went into the final frame tied 1-1, and loaded the bases.
Freshman catcher Cecily Gordon drove in sophomore infielder Breanne Cooley for the 2-1 victory.
The win was Harvard’s first over the Eagles in two years, and the Crimson was happy to rely on the clutch play of a freshman to take the contest.
“It’s great to see her so calm in such a tense situation,” Whitton said. “I think she showed that she can play like a veteran.”
Such poise will be necessary for the defending Ivy League champs.
Not only has an influx of freshman changed the composition of the team, but the loss of junior co-captain Grace Bloodwell has sapped some experience from the squad.
Bloodwell elected not to rejoin the team for the 2002 season, leaving Whitton as the sole captain.
“I’m not too worried,” Stefanchik said. “Tiff’s a great leader, and we’re all gaining more experience as we go.”
Softball won’t return until the spring, but this weekend’s action suggests the young squad will again be in the race for an Ivy title.
“I think we looked really good out there,” Allard said. “They were our best fall games in a while.”