The Harvard baseball team took its act on the road this weekend, escaping chilly Cambridge for a four-game set in the warmer confines of the Sunshine State.
But while the Crimson came away from its trip to Florida with its first victory of the season, it also dropped three contests along the way as its record fell to 1-6.
Harvard faced off against Northern Iowa in Bradenton, Fla. on Saturday, suffering a 5-3 loss before heading over to Sarasota to lose to Ohio State, 9-7.
Harvard split a doubleheader against Lafayette yesterday in Bradenton, taking a victory in the first game on the strength of a one-run, seven-inning gem by senior pitcher Brad Unger, then was blown out by the Leopards, 13-2, in the nightcap.
While offensive outbursts from seniors Matt Vance, the team captain, and Tom Stack-Babich—who combined for three home runs and 11 RBI over the weekend—provided the Crimson with enough firepower to stay competitive in most of its games, Harvard struggled to string runs together at crucial times.
“We’re not the kind of team that can sit back and wait for those home runs to happen,” Vance said. “We need to focus on getting our bunts down and moving runners. We hit a couple out this weekend, but that’s not going win us ball games.”
LAFAYETTE 13, HARVARD 2
In the second contest of a twinbill with Lafayette, the Crimson pitching staff was knocked around in a convincing rout.
Sophomore Dan Zailskas got the starting nod but was chased off the mound after three innings, giving up four runs on five hits, including a two-run homer by Lafayette’s Joe Ezekiel.
Freshmen Zach Hofeld and Dan Bedardo fared no better, combining to give up eight runs in the fifth inning as the Leopards put the game out of reach.
“They hit a few ones hard off Zailskas and the guys who came up after couldn’t find the zone,” Stack-Babich said. “Things just snowballed.”
HARVARD 4, LAFAYETTE 1
Fresh off the end of basketball season, Unger—who moonlights as a center when he’s not on the mound—pitched Harvard to victory, delivering seven stellar innings in which he struck out six batters while only walking one, giving up just one run.
“He went seven strong, and I don’t think he was supposed to go more than four or five,” Stack-Babich said. “He’s always consistent. He throws strikes, never gets flustered.”
Stack-Babich gave the Crimson some breathing room in the eighth, doubling Harvard’s two-run lead with a home run to left field, his second of the weekend.
OHIO STATE 9, HARVARD 7
Senior starter Sean Haviland came out strong in Harvard’s second game of the day on Saturday, giving up only three runs in his first seven innings.
But without an established relief option in the Crimson bullpen, Harvard coach Joe Walsh decided to keep Haviland in for the eighth inning. Fatigue got the best of the Crimson ace, and the Buckeyes tagged him for four runs to take a 7-3 lead.
“When you give a good team that many looks at a pitcher it’s tough to keep him in there that long,” Vance said. “Someone on the pitching staff has to step up and claim that [relief] role. We need someone there to finish the game.”
Down 9-5 in the bottom of the ninth, Harvard rallied, scoring two runs on a double by Stack-Babich, but Ohio State was able to stop the bleeding for the win.
Stack-Babich also homered in the game on a line drive shot to dead center.
“He is absolutely raking,” Vance, who also hit a home run, said. “It was one of the hardest balls I’ve ever seen hit.”
NORTHERN IOWA 5, HARVARD 3
The Crimson got off to a rough start this weekend, when sophomore starter Eric Eadington was forced to leave the game in the second inning due to tightness in his elbow.
“We’re hoping for the best,” Vance said of Eadington, who is scheduled for an MRI today. “We’re going to rely on him, so we need him out there.”
One positive from Saturday’s game was the emergence of freshman Ben Sestanovich, who pitched five scoreless innings of relief to keep Harvard in the game and cement himself as the front-runner to take the Crimson’s fourth rotation spot once the Ivy League season starts.
“We’ve been having a tough time finding people that can go out there and pound the zone and he was great,” Stack-Babich said. “He wasn’t afraid to fail and he didn’t.”
But Sestanovich’s gritty performance was wasted by a dormant showing from the Harvard offense, which—aside from Stack-Babich’s 4-for-4 day—was unable to come through in the clutch, leaving the bases loaded in the ninth inning to give the Panthers the 5-3 win.
—Staff writer Loren Amor can be reached at email@example.com.