The hot corner seems to be a hot seat for the Harvard softball team this season, as the face at third base has changed daily. With a series of injuries and question marks plaguing the Crimson, Harvard coach Jenny Allard penciled five different players into the lineup card at third over the first 12 games of the season.
During the 2004 season, first-team All-Ivy selection Virgina Fritsch performed solidly at third, and shouldered more than her load offensively in an excellent freshman year. Fritsch hit .306 for the season—second best on the team—and led the squad with a .519 slugging percentage and 26 RBI, landing her Rookie of the Year honors. But Fritsch tore her labrum, and will be out for the entire 2005 season after surgery.
The void will be filled by several players who bring a range of experience to the hot corner. Senior Lauren Bettinelli, returning from a knee injury in the fall, has already demonstrated her domination from the pitching mound and adds third base to her repertoire this spring. Bettinelli started the first two games of the season at third and went 1-for-6 at the plate.
“This year, we’re trying to figure out [Bettinelli’s] role defensively,” Allard said. “With the opening at third, we have been working her at third. She has some of the best hands on the team. She has quick hands, quick read. So far, she’s making some adjustments. I don’t know if she’ll be the definite starter, but she definitely could play for us.”
Since the first two games, Bettinelli has been seeing much more time on the pitcher’s mound, while other able players have been fielding balls at third base. Junior Rachel Murray, an second team All-Ivy selection at third base her freshman year, has worked her way back into the starting lineup. After shoulder surgery last year and a term abroad this fall, Allard was not sure in what condition Murray would return. But Murray came in at full strength and has played in six games at third, more than any other single player. Murray is only 1-for-12 on the season, but has committed just two errors, for a .895 fielding percentage.
Allard has been pleasantly surprised by Murray’s performance thus far this season.
“Rachel Murray earned third base her freshman year,” Allard said. “Then she got hurt sophomore year. It was very inconsistent getting her back on track. Lo and behold, Rachel Murray has come back. Then, she fractured her knuckle, so her hand’s in a cast.”
With Murray out for the early part of the season, Allard had her hands full juggling the rotation.
If anything, the lack of a consistent starter is due to an abundance of talent at third. Juniors Erin Halpenny and Pilar Adams bring additional depth to the position. Halpenny has been reliable in the past, notching a .984 fielding percentage there last season. Meanwhile, Adams had no errors in 24 games in 2004.
Adams, who also plays in the outfield, said that contrary to what some may think, the inconsistency at third is not a weakness, but may actually be a strength, as it demonstrates the versatility of the team.
“Of course, it would be ideal to know exactly where you’re going to play every game,” Adams said. “But we have so much versatility. People can play so many different positions.”
Additionally, junior Cara Woodard could spend some time at third this season after missing the entire 2004 season with a knee injury.
Although the platoon is hitting just a combined .074 (2-for-27), defensively the hot corner corps is fairing much better. The five players committed only five errors over the first 12 games.
As the non-conference season winds down and Ivy play begins, the rotation at third is anything but set, yet the players remain optimistic and upbeat. Adams noted that the non-league slate is the perfect time to move players around and try to find the best combinations.
“There has been a little bit of inconsistency at third, but we always have that in the preseason,” Adams said. “Regardless of where we’re playing, we all play as hard as we can every game.”
Allard calls third “a big question mark right now,” but there is no question that the Crimson roster boasts many capable third basemen. With Ivy League play beginning tomorrow, however, look for one or two of these players to emerge as consistent starters.