Something so good never felt so bad.
Despite a no-hitter by junior Ben Crockett in perhaps his final Ivy League game, the Harvard baseball team (18-24, 11-9 Ivy) will not win the Red Rolfe division this season, as it lost three of four games to Dartmouth (18-16, 12-8 Ivy) over the weekend. Harvard needed only to split the four games to secure a one-game playoff for the title against either Dartmouth or Brown. Unfortunately for the Crimson, the Big Green swept Harvard on Saturday and then won the first of two games yesterday, a 4-2 victory in ten innings, to crush Harvard's playoff and Ivy League Championship hopes.
"This is the worst feeling in the world," Harvard Coach Joe Walsh said. "I'm a baseball guy and I want to be playing baseball. But, after this Tuesday, our season is over. It's a lousy feeling because this team deserves to play this coming weekend and beyond."
Dartmouth's victory in game one of the doubleheader yesterday eliminated the intense pressure that game two would have contained if Harvard had held on to win. Regardless, Crockett's no-hitter in game two, a 10-0 slaughter in which Harvard took out its frustration from having lost game one, was as impressive a pitching performance as one will see in college baseball. Crockett faced the minimum 27 batters through his nine innings, allowing no hits and no walks on 85 pitches. Only a second-inning error by Bryan Hale in center field prevented a perfect game.
"I felt really good today, and (junior catcher) Brian Lentz called an unbelievable game for me," Crockett said. "It was a difficult situation because the team was really down after the first loss, but you enjoy going out and pitching no matter what."
Crockett struck out a career-high 14 batters, after fanning 12 last week against Brown. The performance gives the Crimson some momentum going into Tuesday's Beanpot Tournament at Fenway Park. Nevertheless, it is the failed execution this weekend that will linger in the players' minds for weeks to come.
Harvard 10, Dartmouth 0
Harvard made up for its losses with a triumphant close to the weekend, winning 10-0 behind Crockett's no-hitter, the first in Coach Walsh's six-year tenure at Harvard. Harvard scored six runs in the third inning to gain a comfortable lead over Dartmouth. The outburst all occurred with two-outs, beginning with Joe Llanes' solo homerun.
"Joe was mad about his near miss in game one, and made up for it in game two-just an hour too late, I guess," Birtwell said.
Llanes' homer began a streak of eight straight Harvard hitters to reach base. After Carter was hit by a pitch following the Llanes bomb to left, six consecutive players singled for the Crimson, driving in five runs.
Harvard finished the game with 10 runs on 16 hits. It was Crockett's gem, however, that had everyone talking at the contest's conclusion.
"It was unbelievable performance," Walsh said. "It gives us a little bit of a boost heading into Fenway. We've still got some things to play for. We are pumped to be playing at Fenway, and we'd like to reach the 20-win mark. I just wish we were playing this weekend."
Dartmouth 4, Harvard 2, 10 inn.
Yesterday's first game was the most important contest of the year for both Harvard and Dartmouth. A Harvard win would have forced Dartmouth to win game two in order to beat out Harvard for the Red Rolf Division title. Dartmouth knew it would clinch at least a tie for the division with a game one victory.
Walsh decided to start senior John Birtwell in game one of the doubleheader. Birtwell has been Harvard's best pitcher for the past three seasons and entered yesterday's game with a 4-3 record and a 2.43 ERA. The Big Green jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning after leadoff hitter Scott Shirrell hit a line-drive triple in the right field corner. Jason Dacosta drove him in with a sacrifice fly to left field to give Dartmouth a quick one-run advantage.
Harvard answered in the bottom of the fourth, scoring two runs on back-to-back sacrifice flies. Junior Mark Mager led off the inning with a single and senior Joe Llanes followed with a double to left-center, moving Mager to third. Junior Nick Carter then hit a long fly ball to center field, scoring Mager and moving Llanes to third. The next batter, junior catcher Brian Lentz, drove Llanes home with a sacrifice fly to left, giving the Crimson a 2-1 lead.
After giving up the run in the first, Birtwell found his groove, allowing only four hits (all singles) and no runs through the next five innings.
The first game of an Ivy League doubleheader is only seven innings. As a result, Harvard entered the game's last regulation inning with a 2-1 lead. Birtwell struck out Dartmouth senior Mike Levy to begin the inning, bringing Harvard within two outs of taking game one. But the Big Green would not go away.
Dartmouth junior first baseman Mike Mileusnic doubled into the right-field gap to put a runner in scoring position. Senior third baseman Brian Nickerson followed up with a laser-beam shot over second baseman Faiz Shakir's glove to tie the game at 2-2. Nickerson, who ended up with a double on the play, had proved himself on Saturday to be a clutch performer. With two-outs in the eighth inning, trailing 5-2 in Saturday's second game, Nickerson hit a three-run shot over the fence in left field to tie the ballgame. Coach Walsh knew that Nickerson was a dangerous hitter and talked with Birtwell after Mileusnic's double.
"Coach told me to pitch around him, but honestly, I just made a mistake," Birtwell said. "The second it left my hand, I said to myself, 'ah no!'. It's just one of those things in the game of the baseball."
Birtwell got himself out of the inning without allowing more damage. Harvard failed to score in the bottom half of the seventh inning, extending the contest into extra innings. Neither team threatened in the eighth inning, but in the ninth, senior Joe Llanes hit a shot to left field that looked like a sure homerun off his bat. The wind, blowing hard to the right, severely knocked down the ball, allowing Shirrell to make the catch at the warning track. The home run would have given Harvard the victory, 3-2.
In the top of the tenth, Dartmouth finally got to Birtwell. With one-out, Derek Draper laid down a surprise bunt that rolled along the third base line, remaining in fair territory. Draper had already reached first base by the time Harvard third-baseman Nick Carter unhappily scooped up the no-longer-rolling baseball. Josh Cushman pinch ran for Draper and scored on junior shortstop Matt Klentak's double to right-center. Klentak scored an insurance-run on sophomore Jason Dacosta's base-hit to right.
Harvard's Lentz, Trey Hendricks, and Faiz Shakir went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the tenth to give Dartmouth the win. Big Green pitcher Tim Grant pitched all ten innings, allowing only two runs on five hits, outdueling Birtwell in the end.
"Baseball's a game of inches," Birtwell said,. "You lose with no excuses. We went down fighting."
Dartmouth 6, Harvard 5, 10 inn.
The eighth inning of game two of Saturday's doubleheader may go down as the turning point in both teams' seasons. Leading 5-2, Harvard's starting pitcher Justin Nyweide recorded consecutive outs to begin the eighth inning. Four outs away from splitting the series at one apiece and stealing a victory on the road, Nyweide showed his first signs of fatigue. Mike Levy singled to left field followed by a Mileusnic single to right. Coach Walsh, who had Birtwell warming up in case Nyweide's arm became too tired, decided to stick with the junior pitcher for at least one more batter. Walsh called for a change-up on the first pitch to Nickerson, who erased Harvard's comfortable three-run lead with one swing of the bat.
"Nickerson has been a thorn in our side for five years," Walsh said of Nickerson, a fifth-year senior and engineering major. "If Nyweide had given up a single, I would have taken him out and gone with Birtwell. Instead, Nickerson hits the homerun, and now it's too late."
Birtwell did enter the game in the bottom of the ninth with the score still tied at five. He retired his first three batters in order, sending the game into extra innings. Harvard could not score in the top of tenth off Dartmouth starter John Velosky, who pitched all ten innings like Grant on Sunday. With one out in the bottom half of the inning, Levy ended the game, hitting a blast over the left field wall off Birtwell for a walk-off home run and a Big Green 6-5 win.
Dartmouth 11, Harvard 9
As was the pattern for the weekend, the Crimson opened the action by falling just short of glory. Harvard almost made a historic comeback, scoring eight unanswered runs after trailing 11-1 in the fourth inning. The Crimson could not get over the hump, falling 11-9 in seven innings.
Leading 2-1, Dartmouth exploded for nine runs in the bottom of the fourth inning to seemingly put the game out of Harvard's reach. Four straight Dartmouth singles forced Harvard starting pitcher Kenon Ronz out of the game with the Crimson down 4-1. Sophomore Barry Wahlberg could not stop the bleeding, allowing the next six men to reach base safely, including a 3-run homer by Klentak. When the damage was done, Harvard trailed by ten runs.
The Crimson showed heart and determination by responding with seven runs of its own in the following half inning. Three straight singles loaded the bases for junior shortstop Mark Mager, who forced in a run to make it 11-2. After junior first baseman Josh San Salvador scored on a wild pitch, back to back doubles by Carter and Hendricks cut Dartmouth's lead to six, 11-5. Shakir, junior Javy Lopez, and San Salvador followed with three straight singles, which scored three more runs. Harvard was back in the ballgame, down by only three, 11-8.
If the game was nine innings long, Harvard may have pulled out an improbable win. However, with only two more innings remaining in the game, the Crimson did not have enough. Carter homered in the top of the seventh, cutting the lead to two. The homer forced Dartmouth starter Lawrence Fay out of the game after allowing nine runs and thirteen hits in six innings. Jeffrey Dutremble entered in his place and shut the door on Harvard, getting Lopez to fly out to left to end Harvard's comeback attempt.
The Dartmouth players will now have to wait and see until the Red Rolfe Division is officially theirs. If Brown sweeps Cornell this Wednesday, the two teams will square off in a one-game playoff for the Division Title, each tied with a 12-8 Ivy League record. Harvard will not be involved for the second consecutive year.
As John Birtwell said, baseball is a game of inches. This weekend, the Crimson fell an inch too short.