SEASON RECAP: Baseball
Ivy Champions' Season Concludes With NCAA Losses
It was unsatisfying and minor, a predictable blip on the national baseball radar: two unmemorable box scores scrolling by meekly on ESPN during one hot weekend in early June.
It was all these things, one must admit.
But they meant the world to Joe Walsh and Harvard baseball.
For two games, the Crimson went big-time—and in the end, understandably, its venerable head coach wasn’t satisfied.
“It’s going to be tough to swallow,” Walsh said. “Nobody came down here with the idea that we just wanted to be in the tournament. We wanted to make a few upsets, get a couple of ‘W’s under our belt, and see what happened after that.”
Sent to what was universally dubbed the NCAA tournament’s “Bracket of Death,” Harvard had its first opportunity to nationally showcase the “athlete” aspect of its student-athletes since 2002.
The trial by fire, as it happened, was less than ideal.
Downed by defending champion Cal State Fullerton in its first game by a score of 19-0, and then thumped 14-6 by Big 12 power Missouri the next day in the loser’s bracket, it was an early exit for Harvard University in baseball’s big dance.
Along the way, Crimson players’ names were mispronounced (Mike Morgalis magically became Mike “Margolis” on Titans radio) and the usual—and, in this context, uniquely unflattering—jokes were made about SAT scores and GPAs.
“I just kind of told them that it’s real easy just to dwell on these [losses] and let them linger,” Walsh said. “You’ve got to shake it off.”
But really, to frame Crimson baseball (29-17, 15-5 Ivy) just by its performance in that first week of June would be overwhelmingly shortsighted.
Harvard’s season was ended by the Tigers, yes, but this time, it happened to be Missouri’s—not Princeton’s.
With a true balance of youth, veteran leadership, pitching, and slugging, the Crimson charged to its first Ivy championship since 2002.
Ironically, Harvard’s pitching staff was estimated as its weakest link in the preseason, with four starters besides former ace Trey Hendricks ’04 having made at least five starts in 2004—and none recording an ERA lower than 5.05.
But then arrived freshman Shawn Haviland (7-1, 2.85). And the new, improved version of junior Frank Herrmann (5-1, 3.09). And a rejuvenated senior presence in Morgalis (5-0, 3.53).
Not to mention Ivy Rookie of the Year Steffan Wilson, who—besides moonlighting as a first-team All-Ivy third baseman—stepped in as a second-team All-Ivy closer, as well, setting the school record for saves with six.
“Pitching’s key,” Herrmann said. “No one thought our pitching would be our strong suit coming into this year, but pitching’s carried us, especially early on in the Ivy season.”
Offensively speaking, the Crimson ranked first or second in literally every statistical category, stealing 84 bases and batting .299 as a team.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was paced by the usual suspects at the plate.
Junior and 2004 Red Sox draftee Zak Farkes overcame an early shoulder injury to lead the way by hitting .359, while captain catcher Sky Mann—who led the team in RBI with 43—tied fellow first-teamer Farkes for the school home run-record in his final season in Cambridge.
A finally healthy Josh Klimkiewicz, meanwhile, joined the race by crushing nine four-baggers, tied for the team lead with Mann. And yet another freshman, centerfielder Matt Vance, paced Harvard with 15 steals and 40 runs scored.
The Crimson ultimately edged out potent upstart Brown for the Red Rolfe Division title, and then swept Cornell—which felled usual power Princeton in the Lou Gehrig Division—in a dominant Ivy Championship Series.
But still, of course, there is the bittersweet taste of the NCAA tournament which necessarily lingers.
“I’m just disappointed we didn’t play up to our capabilities,” Walsh summarized. “But at the same time it was a pretty good season.”
In Ivy League baseball—a crazy, topsy-turvy world with uncompromising academic standards and zero athletic scholarships—no team gets the luxury to skip ahead to the so-called Road to Omaha and the College World Series.
The path in the Ancient Eight is colder, among other things, and infinitely less glamorous.
In 2005, Harvard’s biggest honor might be that it walked that road less traveled better than all others.
ESPN or not, that is always something to be proud of.
—Staff writer Pablo S. Torre can be reached at email@example.com.