It was two-and-barbecue for the Harvard baseball team in the first round of NCAA regional play last week, a sudden ending to what had been a stellar season.
But the squad—or most of it, anyway—can take solace in one thing. It should be back in the postseason next year.
For a team that will probably say farewell to its two career home run leaders (Zak Farkes and Schuyler Mann), its top postseason starter (Mike Morgalis), and arguably the two most clutch players during its Ivy title run (Ian Wallace and Rob Wheeler), the defending league champions are sitting pretty for 2006.
Why? Two of the strongest recruiting classes in program history.
Start with next year’s seniors, who came in with quite a bit of buzz on the heels of Harvard’s 2002 championship season.
After an injury-plagued first two seasons, Josh Klimkiewicz finally is healthy and was the most consistent power presence in the Crimson lineup this season. He finished the year tied for the league lead in both homers (9) and doubles (16).
Lance Salsgiver—the only first-team high school All-American playing in the Ivies—was a second-team All-Ivy selection in right field, and with his talent he’s capable of more.
Morgan Brown has become the league’s top defensive shortstop, and Frank Herrmann a dominant Ivy starter.
Even assuming Farkes—the junior home run king who should be selected on the first day of the amateur draft—chooses to leave school early, it will be the strongest senior class since Ben Crockett ’02 headlined Harvard’s last Ivy title run.
And then, there are the freshmen.
With Farkes DHing at the start of the season, the Crimson had exactly three holes to fill—third base, centerfield and No. 3 starter.
Three freshmen filled them.
The speedy Matt Vance—a high school shortstop—took over in centerfield. Batting leadoff for much of the season, he was second in the Ivies in steals (15) and third in walks (21).
The Ivy Rookie of the Year Steffan Wilson stepped in at third, and was immediately inserted into the heart of Harvard’s order. He didn’t disappoint, hitting .344-5-33, and showing more consistency than any of the team’s veteran sluggers.
And oh yeah, he set a school record for saves in a season with six.
Finally, there is Shawn Haviland. If it weren’t for Wilson—or if the All-Ivy votes were taken after the Ivy Championship Series—Haviland may have been the league’s selection as top rookie.The baby-faced blond from Farmington, Conn. finished the year atop the league in wins (7) and opponents batting average (.217), and was third in ERA (2.85). Most encouragingly, he was best at season’s end, tossing seven innings of two-hit baseball in an ICS-clinching 4-2 win over Cornell.
Haviland and Herrmann—who finished No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the league in opponents batting average—will be co-aces next season.
With junior-to-be Drew Casey a virtual lock to step in for Mann—a two-time Ivy first-teamer—behind the plate, left field is the only spot in the lineup without a solidified starter.
Harvard arguably returns more than any team in the league.
Division rival Brown, which finished just a game behind the Crimson, bids adieu to the unanimous Ivy Player of the Year and Harvard nemesis Matt Kutler.Though most of its other offensive weapons return, the worst rotation in the Ivy League will still be its achilles’ heel.
Yale—which hung around the Rolfe race through pitching and defense—will lose Ivy Pitcher of the Year Josh Sowers, the only member of its rotation to earn all-Ivy recognition.
And in the Lou Gehrig division, perennial power Princeton may lose the most of any Ivy team—its coach, Scott Bradley.
Bradley—who has led the Tigers to seven division championships in eight seasons—is rumored to be a leading candidate to fill the head coaching vacancy at Duke, though he has not confirmed his interest in the position. Even if he does return, it will be to far less talent than Princeton has boasted in recent years.
All of this taken together helps explain why, with a man on and Harvard trailing Missouri 11-4 in the sixth inning of an elimination game last Saturday, Joe Walsh called his probable Game 3 starter out of the bullpen in a game that was all-but-decided.
Haviland trotted to the mound of Goodwin Field to pitch in front of a growing crowd and a national TV audience.
The rookie might as well get a taste of what it’s like. He’ll probably be out there next season.
—Staff writer Lande A. Spottswood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.