For five brisk innings on Saturday afternoon, freshman Adam Cole played the role of series savior.
Bearing down and executing what looked like an immaculate game plan, Cole blew away the Princeton Tigers one by one—nine in a row during one stretch.
Fastball, fastball, slider. He threw early strikes, swinging strikes, and then nipped at the corners until then—there—broke the tight inside slider that left six Tigers knock-kneed and confounded. Five of Cole’s strikeout victims walked away after called third strikes.
Captain Morgan Brown struggled to make sense of it all a day later.
“Everyone thought he threw harder and sharper than he had since [an April 1 win against Princeton],” Brown said, referring to a jaw-dropping Ivy League debut in which the freshman struck out 11. “Adam’s a tremendous competitor. He wanted to put behind last week against Dartmouth. But then a couple of things happen...”
It was an odd and at times maddening year for the Red Rolfe division champion Crimson, which in many ways outperformed expectations while four members of its 2005 team ascended into the minor league ranks.
Steady, unremarkable success was lacking from the program. Injury and inconsistency, the twin horns of seasons gone awry, killed momentum where there would be plenty.
During the first weekend of the regular season, Harvard brought its hyped and healthy lineup to Gainesville, Fla. for three games against the Florida Gators. It retained from 2005 three dynamic seniors, players like Cape Cod League All-Star Lance Salsgiver, who had gained experience at the highest levels of collegiate play.
“We legitimately wanted to go in and win one of those games,” Brown said.
Harvard’s offense held its own against Florida; the first week, it was the pitching that failed the Crimson.
“Then the next week, the defense,” Brown said. “The next week, it was the offense. The next thing we knew, we were 1-7. And last year, I don’t think we were ever under .500.”
Battle-hardened by its most challenging non-conference schedule in years, Harvard jumped into April’s Ivy League season and reeled off a six-game winning streak.
Then the injury bug hit. Brown strained a hamstring against Penn. Sparkplug Brendan Byrne tore his meniscus. Slugger Josh Klimkiewicz hurt his elbow in a collision with Brown’s Steve Daniels.
Meanwhile, the Crimson kept the lead that it had held from the very beginning, never losing an Ivy League series. And yet the month of April included two ugly defeats on the road against Boston College—the first of which Harvard head coach Joe Walsh hinted might have been the “worst loss” of his career—and a walk-filled loss against Rhode Island. And yet in one month, Harvard beat a strong Northeastern team twice.
The Crimson entered the final weekend of the regular season needing wins in two of four games against rival Dartmouth. The season’s high point: Harvard’s division clincher on the final season’s day, a 23-9 rout.
And then there was Saturday.
“Any time you don’t do as well as you expect to and want to, it’s frustrating,” Brown said. “Having to play in the last half of the season at half-speed,” he added, referring to an injury that likely contributed to his failure to beat out a double play and convert two routine ground-outs, “that was frustrating.”
“There’s plenty of things that you can find frustrating—but, there’s plenty to be optimistic about.”
For one, there was Taylor Meehan, who emerged as an offensive threat in the second spot of the batting order. The sophomore hit .330 for the season, a team fourth-best.
There was sophomore Matt Vance, who backed up his early-season chatter by becoming the league’s best stolen-base threat.
There were the innumerable contributions of seniors like Matt Brunnig, Javier Castellanos, Chris Mackey, who, given room to operate, finally realized their potential.
And there was Cole, who, with Haviland next year, will form the Ivy League’s best one-two punch on the mound; who, on Saturday, finished a dazzling start with a nightmare sixth inning.
“It’s really unfortunate that this happened to us,” Brown said.
—Staff writer Alex McPhillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.