While it may be premature to say that the Harvard baseball team’s season-long skid is finally coming to an end, signs of consistency from the Crimson’s pitching and defense are inspiring enough confidence in the team that, if Harvard can bring its hitting woes to an end, it can once again be competitive in the Ivy League.
“Right now we’re thinking we have two of the three things to win a baseball game,” senior pitcher Sean Haviland said. “We have some good hitters and they’re going to start hitting.”
If the Crimson (2-23, 1-7 Ivy) hopes to be successful in its four-game series in New Haven against Yale (13-16, 5-2-1 Ivy) this weekend, the Harvard lineup will have to break out of its collective slump, and quickly. Through April 6, the Crimson had scored a nation-worst 2.6 runs per game, with several of its top hitters struggling mightily at the plate, including captain Matt Vance, who, since his two-homer outing last Wednesday against Holy Cross, is 2-for-24 with 10 strikeouts. According to Harvard coach Joe Walsh, Vance has taken the burden of awakening the Crimson’s struggling lineup on as a personal challenge, to the detriment of his own performance.
“[Vance is] trying to do it all, trying to carry the team,” Walsh said. “I’m just hoping he can relax a little bit.”
This weekend, Walsh plans to take Vance out of the middle of the lineup and place him back in the leadoff spot, where the speedy senior thrived in his first three years at Harvard. The Crimson skipper is confident that a change of scenery will get Vance back on the right track.
“He’s hit for three years and I think when it’s all over you’re going to look back and say, ‘Boy he’s had a good season,’” Walsh said.
Harvard’s other major power source, senior Tom Stack-Babich, is injured and unable to hit, but the right fielder may still be able to put his powerful arm to use as Walsh plans to keep Stack-Babich on call in the bullpen, where he may be able to supplement a depleted Crimson relief corps. However, Walsh still hopes he won’t have to tap into the pen often this weekend, with Harvard fresh off of a four-day, seven-game stretch in which the team reached deep into its crop of pitchers, veteran and rookie alike, to make it through a gauntlet-like portion of the schedule.
“I’m worried about the back end of our bullpen,” Walsh said. “Our starters are going to have to give us some big games.”
Harvard will be looking for strong outings from Haviland and fellow senior starter Brad Unger, as well as junior Max Warren and sophomore Dan Zailskas, who will make up the weekend rotation on the mound against the Bulldogs. Warren in particular has been impressive, leading the Crimson with a 3.71 ERA and notching the team’s only save of the season.
“Max Warren has stepped up for us big time,” Haviland said. “He’s been, in his past 20 innings or so, pretty unhittable.”
Harvard’s hurlers will face a formidable challenge against a hard-hitting Yale lineup, led by the power and speed combination of catcher Ryan Lavarnaway and outfielder Josh Cox. Lavarnaway, a feared slugger since he first stepped up to the plate in the Ivy League, is having a monster season for the Bulldogs, having crushed 13 long balls and driven in 38 runs, totals which easily pace the Ancient Eight.
“We’d like to not let him beat us,” Walsh said. “He’s the most dangerous hitter in the league. We’re just going to try to keep the guys off base in front of him and keep the ball down low.”
As a compliment to Lavarnaway’s impressive power, Cox is a table-setter with speed, boasting a .374 batting average and 12 steals on the season.
“[Cox] gets on base and distracts the pitchers,” Walsh said. “He’s a real key to their lineup. If we can keep him off base and go after Lavarnaway that’s going to be a little easier.”
But even if the Crimson pitching staff can contain Yale’s most dangerous weapons, the Harvard bats will have to do their part too, which has not often been the case in this trying season. With the squad six games behind first place Dartmouth in the Rolfe Division and only twelve games left in the Ivy season, there is not much time for the Crimson lineup to come around, and the cliché “one game at a time” approach may not bring Harvard its desired results.
“Winning one game doesn’t get you  wins,” Haviland said. “But if we win Game One at Yale maybe we can build some momentum and go on a run. Things haven’t been going great for us, so we have to start making our own luck.”
—Staff writer Loren Amor can be reached at email@example.com.