Led by dominant pitching from junior Shelly Madick, the Harvard softball team swept Penn, 4-0 and 4-2, in the Ivy League Softball Championship at Soldiers Field on Saturday to win its fourth league title and advance to the NCAA Championship.
Madick threw a no-hitter in the first game, allowing just one walk in the seven innings.
She entered the second game with two outs in the fifth and pitched the final 2 1/3 innings for the save.
“I just knew we were going to win,” Madick said. “The whole team was on a mission. No one wanted to play tomorrow, no one wanted to leave it up to the last game. We earned it.”
HARVARD 4, PENN 2
Senior shortstop Lauren Brown hit a two-run home run to left in the top of the fourth to break a 2-2 tie and the Crimson (31-13) held on to win the series clincher in front of over 300 fans.
“It just got us even more excited, knowing we were going to have so many friends and family here today,” captain Julia Kidder said. “We wanted to get it done for ourselves, to get it done for them because they have been a great support system throughout the year.”
The Quakers (23-19) threatened in the fourth and fifth, but Harvard pitchers snuffed out the rallies. In the fourth, with runners at second and third and two outs, freshman Dana Roberts, who notched the win in relief, got Annie Kinsey, the league’s leading hitter, to ground out to second.
In the fifth, a booted grounder by Brown put runners on first and third with two outs. Head coach Jenny Allard then went to Madick, fresh off her no-hit performance in the first game. Madick induced an easy ground ball to end the threat.
After a 1-2-3 sixth, Madick ran into a little trouble in the bottom of the seventh. Kinsey singled up the middle leading off the inning, the only hit Madick gave up all afternoon.
One out later, Madick hit Stephanie Reichert with a pitch, bringing Christina Khosravi, the 2006 Ivy League Player of the Year, to the plate as the potential winning run.
But Madick struck her out with a fastball on the inside corner, then got Julia Cheney to pop out to freshman third baseman Melissa Schellberg, sparking the celebration.
The Crimson jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first. Freshman right fielder Jennifer Francis drove in freshman designated player Lauren Murphy and Schellberg with an opposite-field double.
Francis, who usually bats seventh or eighth in the lineup, was moved up to the fifth sport for both games.
The lead held until the bottom of the third. Junior starter Amanda Watkins worked around walks in each of the first two innings, but gave up a two-run double to Reichert with one out. Allard brought in Roberts, who ended the inning by getting two quick outs.
Harvard grabbed the lead back in the top of the next inning. Senior left fielder Susie Winkeller walked and was bunted over to second. That brought up Brown, who sent the ball beyond the left-field fence for her sixth home run of the year.
Brown batted leadoff Saturday for the first time in 13 games. She had been the leadoff hitter for most of the season until sustaining a finger injury early on in league play.
Roberts and Madick made Brown’s blast hold up. Roberts improved to 7-5 with the victory, while Madick got her first save.
HARVARD 4, PENN 0
Penn came into the game with a .308 team batting average, a mark that dropped seven whole points as Madick held the team hitless for the first no-hitter of her collegiate career.
“Shelly came out very strong,” Allard said. “We had a good approach to all their batters. She hit her spots—her curve was working, her screwball was working. She was just ready for today. She was very prepared and executed perfectly.”
The junior ace piled up seven strikeouts, along with eight fly outs and six ground outs. 71 of her 91 pitches went for strikes as she completely shut down a talented Quaker offense.
“[Penn] has really good hitters,” Madick said. “I had to focus every single pitch. I think the fact that they are so good made me really focus from pitch to pitch. Everybody really wanted it today and it all came together.”
With her performance, she improved to 16-4 on the season and lowered her ERA to 1.45, the best mark in the league.
Kinsey broke up Madick’s perfect game by working a work to lead off the fourth.
With Kinsey on second, Reichert had the Quakers’ best chance of the game for a base hit. She blooped the ball over junior first baseman Danielle Kerper, but Kidder ranged into the hole and threw to first for the out.
Kinsey was stranded at third as Madick struck out Khosravi to escape the inning. Penn did have another base runner in the game.
The Crimson was blanked by Quakers ace Emily Denstedt through the first two innings, but broke out in the third. Brown hit an infield single to shortstop to lead off the inning and moved to third on a throwing error on Kidder’s sacrifice bunt.
Murphy was then intentionally walked to bring up Schellberg. Like Francis, Schellberg had been moved up several spots in the lineup by Allard. And as Francis would do, Schellberg rewarded Allard’s confidence by lining the ball of Kinsey’s glove into right, plating Brown. Kidder came home and Murphy reached third when the ball was booted in the outfield.
“The strategy was to get people with hot bats behind Lauren Murphy,” Allard said. “Kerper had done really well early in the year and they started to pitch her up and out. We knew that so we said, ‘Let’s move her down so she can get better pitches and let’s move both our freshman, whose bats are hot, up behind Murph.’ And it worked.”
Kerper followed with a sacrifice fly to score Murphy.
While Madick was setting down Penn, Harvard scratched out another run on three hits in the fifth. Murphy led off with a single to center and advanced on a two-out double by Francis. Winkeller lined an RBI single to left, although Francis was thrown out at the plate to end the inning.
The Quakers did not gain any momentum from the play at the plate. Madick easily retired the final six batters of the game. The final out came on a long foul to left by Khosravi, Penn’s farthest-hit ball of the day. But Winkeller tracked it down, Madick finished the no-hitter, and the Crimson was on its way to a sweep.
—Staff writer Ted Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.