It’s a big rivalry, albeit a one-sided one. In 10 years of coaching, Harvard coach Jenny Allard has never seen her softball team beat the University of Massachusetts (16-11). The Crimson (10-12-1) came close in the second game of yesterday’s doubleheader but fell short against the Minutewomen at Soldier’s Field.
UMASS 2, HARVARD 1
With the Crimson facing a 2-0 deficit in the bottom of the seventh, Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing,” featuring the line “I believe in miracles,” crackled over the speakers. Neither the band nor the lyrics could have been more appropriate as the frozen fans and players hoped for a rally.
Junior first baseman Cecily Gordon battled with a full count and belted a line drive over second base and into right center for a single. Then freshman Virginia Fritsch cranked a ground ball base hit along the foul line and into left field.
With the winning run at the plate, warmth rushed into the frozen players and fans. Junior Annie Dell’Aria, who smacked a home run in the first game, came up to the plate. It was a good swing and a hard-hit ground ball, but UMass shortstop Hilary Puglia made a quick play to first, picking up the first out. She then made nearly the identical putout on sophomore Erin Halpenny’s follow-up effort.
With runners still on second and third, freshman Susie Winkeller punched a spinning hit between the pitcher and the first baseman. First baseman Amanda Morin couldn’t handle the hit, and Winkeller scampered to first while Gordon raced home. Suddenly, the Crimson was within one run with runners on first and third.
But Puglia might as well have been on autopilot as she fielded co-captain Sara Williamson’s grounder shot in her direction for the third and final out. And with that, the Minutemen handed the Crimson a heartbreaking 2-1 loss.
“We have a history with UMass,” Gordon said. “We just wanted to take them.”
After being held to just one hit in the first three innings, UMass found their bats in the fourth inning. Katie Jo Kelley led off and jumped right on co-captain Kara Brotemarkle’s pitch, sending it over the left field fence. Later in the inning with two outs, Denise Denis followed up with another solo home run over right center.
The Minutewomen’s threat continued as Kristi Stefanoni launched a double over second base. But junior pitcher Lauren Bettinelli fielded Aisha Franke’s grounder, and Harvard escaped facing only a two-run deficit.
Brotemarkle fanned eight and allowed seven hits in the loss, dropping to 4-7 overall. UMass pitcher Kelli Arnold recorded just five strikeouts, but she also held the Crimson to only three hits in the game.
Despite the loss, it was a very different scene from the combined score of 21-0 against Harvard in last year’s games. The one-run difference was reminiscent of the battles this rivalry has seen before.
“That second game looked like the old Harvard-UMass duels,” assistant coach Liz Wagner said.
UMASS 7, HARVARD 2
The Minutewomen attacked early in the second game, relying on a solo home run by Pam Sulick to get its offense started. KC Budrewicz followed up with a triple as a little help from the wind pushed her hit over senior right fielder Monica Montijo’s outstretched glove for a triple. Morin picked up the RBI for UMass with a solid hit to left field. Halpenny, playing third base for the Crimson, fielded a bunt on the next play but was unable to catch Morin sliding into second.
Down 2-0 with runners on first and second with no outs, Harvard called a timeout, conferencing at the mound. UMass was relentless, however, earning yet another base off a bunt. With the bases loaded and no outs, the Minutewomen sent up the top of the batting order.
But Bettinelli then forced three fly balls that her defense fielded to finally close out the inning.
Harvard got its first hit in the bottom of the third inning off a bunt from freshman shortstop Julie Kidder, but could manage nothing more until after UMass did more damage.
Morin led off the fourth inning with a double that bounced off the fence just one foot short of a home run. Stefanoni drove Morin in with a double of her own and then scored on a wild pitch.
Franke hit to the infield for a single and was on base for Puglia’s home run, increasing the Minutewomen’s lead to 6-0.
“They were hitting [Bettinelli’s] mistakes,” Allard said. “It was a matter of them being really disciplined at the plate.”
Freshmen Becky Voaklander took over on the mound and helped the Crimson out of the inning with a strikeout.
She also held UMass scoreless in the fifth inning before allowing an unearned run in the top of the sixth.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, behind 7-0 and with two outs, Gordon slugged a solo home run in her third at-bat of the game.
“You know you hit the ball right when you can’t feel it off the bat, and that one was gone,” she said. “It just felt great.”
Junior catcher Annie Dell’Aria cranked a home run of her own in the bottom of the seventh, but the margin was insurmountable, leaving Harvard on the short end of a 7-2 final score.
The coaching staff changed almost the entire lineup in the half-hour break between games. Only Gordon at first base and junior left fielder Lauren Stefanchik remained in the same positions throughout the afternoon. The only other player to start both games was Halpenny, who played third base and catcher.
The Crimson used designated and pinch hitters heavily while trying to find the proper combination of offense and defense.
“Our strongest clutch offensive lineup is not our strongest clutch defensive lineup and vice versa,” Allard said. “I’d like to have something set.”
—Staff writer Carrie H. Petri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.