Joe Walsh stood cross-armed in front of the home dugout—white jersey soaked from his victory bath—and smiled into a chill spring breeze.
“What cold?’ he chuckled.
What cold, indeed.
With a two-game sweep of Cornell in the best-of-three Ivy Championship Series at O’Donnell Field on Monday, the Harvard baseball team clinched its first Ivy title since 2002 and guaranteed itself a bid to the NCAA regionals beginning June 3.
The Crimson (25-15) was propelled by solid starting pitching, stellar defense, and a senior class that after waiting two years for an Ivy title wasn’t about to wait another day.
The lineup’s three seniors—Schuyler Mann, Ian Wallace and Rob Wheeler—accounted for all five of Harvard’s RBIs in the 2-0 and 4-2 wins.
“It’s everything I could have ever wanted out of the end of senior season,” said Wheeler, whose RBI single kick-started the Crimson comeback in Game 2. “I’m just so pumped.”
Cornell fell to 17-23 with the losses.
Starting pitchers Frank Herrmann—who tossed a complete game shutout—and freshman Shawn Haviland combined to allow just a single unearned run in 16 innings in a pair of pitchers’ duels.
“Cornell’s got very good pitching,” Walsh said. “Everyone was kind of thinking we swing the bats real well, and we do, but it just goes to show you that good pitching’s the thing. And we had it today, too.”
NCAA Regional brackets will be announced on May 30 in a live selection show on ESPN2.
HARVARD 4, CORNELL 2
In the bottom of the sixth inning of Game 2, the Big Red finally took its first lead of the day. It lasted all of 10 minutes.
With Harvard trailing 1-0, Wheeler knocked in Josh Klimkiewicz—standing on second with a double—to tie the game at 1-1.
With Wheeler on first and Mann, who had walked, on second, freshman Matt Vance then rocketed a liner back up the middle that ricocheted off of the throwing hand of Big Red starter Dan Gala, to score Mann and give Harvard the 2-1 lead.
After Haviland retired the Big Red in order in the bottom of the inning, shortstop Morgan Brown singled to open the eighth.
Lance Salsgiver’s sacrifice bunt died just fair of the third base line for an infield single, and Zak Farkes followed with a bunt single on his own attempted sacrifice to load the bases.
After a strikeout by Klimkiewicz, Mann drove a double off of the wall in left-center field—just a few feet shy of a grand slam—to plate two runs and give the Crimson a 4-1 lead.
“When I had Lance sacrifice and Zak sacrifice, I’m thinking two batters ahead,” Walsh said. “That if they wanted to walk Mann, they have to deal with [Steffan] Wilson and Wheeler. We haven’t had a team like that before, where I can think that far ahead and feel good about it.”
The three-run lead was more than enough for Haviland, who recovered from control problems in the first inning to retire 11 straight hitters in the middle innings and improve to 7-1 on the season. Haviland allowed only a single, unearned run on two hits and five walks before yielding the mound to Wilson in the eighth.
“He was a little nervous early, and he really pulled it together,” Walsh said. “I don’t know if it was nervousness or if he just couldn’t find himself, but [Haviland and Herrmann] hung in there for us.”
Wilson allowed a single run in two innings to pick up his school-record sixth save of the season.
HARVARD 2, CORNELL 0
A date with Frank Herrmann probably wasn’t exactly how Cornell wanted to kick off its first ever trip to the ICS.
A month after tossing a one-hit gem against the Big Red during the regular season, Herrmann scattered eight hits in a complete-game shutout to lead Harvard to a Game 1 win. Herrmann (5-1) walked only one batter while striking out six.
“Frank giving us that first game was huge,” Walsh said. “He really set the bullpen up if needed in Games 2 and 3.”
With the stage set for a low-scoring affair, the Crimson was playing for a single run from the start against Cornell’s Rocky Collis.
With one out in the second, Wilson battled back from an 0-2 count to draw a walk, then Wheeler fouled off three consecutive two-strike offerings before earning his own free pass. After Collis froze Vance with a breaking ball on the outside corner for the second out of the inning, Wallace blooped a single just over the outstretched glove of a diving Matt Miller at shortstop to score Wilson and put Harvard up 1-0.
“I knew he was going to try to get ahead of me early on, so I just sat back and tried to drive it,” Wallace said. “It kind of jammed me a little bit, but at that part of the game you’re just trying to get a little single to get things going.”
The Crimson cushioned its lead in the bottom of the fourth. Mann led off the inning with a double down the left field line, and then scored on a single to left by Wheeler.
Collis (2-4) went the distance for the Big Red, allowing two earned runs on seven hits.
—Staff writer Lande A. Spottswood can be reached at email@example.com.