Rookie Rachel Brown stepped up to anchor a Harvard pitching staff reeling from the graduation of ace Shelly Madick ‘08, finishing the season with a 1.49 ERA and Ivy League Rookie of the Year honors.
On a diamond in Denton, Texas, freshman pitcher Rachel Brown stepped into the circle for the Harvard softball team. It was Opening Day, and Brown had gotten the call. Kansas leadoff batter Stevie Cristoso came to the plate, and before long, was caught looking as the ball sizzled past her for the first strikeout of Brown’s career.
The freshman couldn’t have asked for a better start—or an out more representative of her rookie season.
“Strikeouts, that has kind of been my pattern the last few years,” Brown said. “Last year I was definitely a strikeout pitcher, but I didn’t expect it going into college because the competition is better. But I guess I just spin the ball, and if I don’t think about it, it’s a lot easier.”
Brown’s 211 strikeouts—a total that broke the Crimson single-season record by almost 30 K’s—don’t even begin to tell the story of her sensational campaign.
Beginning the season against a Big 12 opponent with more than a dozen games under its belt, Brown hurled a complete-game, two-hit gem to allow the Crimson to claim a 3-2 walkoff victory—its first Opening Day win in five years.
“It was my first college start, and my dad was there, and I remember coming off the field and him telling me to call my pitching coach and tell them,” Brown said. “There was a big tournament in [Brown’s hometown of] San Diego and I know they were talking about that there, how Harvard upset Kansas. It was so exciting to see that our team could do this, and that I could pitch in college.”
Brown continued her dominance through the preseason slate, taking MVP honors at the Miken Classic and Highlander Classic while leading Harvard to victories in both.
And when the whirlwind Ivy season began, the rookie was up for the challenge.
In the Crimson’s Ancient Eight opener against Columbia, Brown made perhaps her best showing of the season—a one-hit shutout in which she rung up 14 Lions and walked none—helping Harvard to a narrow 1-0 victory.
“You couldn’t even tell she was a freshman out there,” co-captain Bailey Vertovez said. “She dominated as a senior would have. It was so inspiring to play with her…She owned her role as no one else can.”
Brown’s consistency and ability to eat up innings proved vital to the Crimson’s success. She finished 15 of her 21 starts, pitched more than half of the team’s innings and earned 16 of its 27 wins—hurling a pair of one-hit shutouts and three two-hitters along the way.
And as good as she was as a starter, Brown also made seven appearances in relief, earning a league-high four saves.
Against Cornell, Princeton and Dartmouth, Brown pitched a complete game in the opener of each twinbill before coming in to save the nightcap, averaging 9.2 innings per day in those doubleheaders.
“As a freshman, she’s really stepped up with [former ace Shelly Madick ’08] leaving last year,” Vertovez said. “She stayed composed. I’m not going to say she was perfect every time, but she would bounce back the next inning and give a solid performance.”
When all was said and done, Brown finished the season with a 16-7 record and a 1.49 ERA, her 211 strikeouts coming in just 150.1 innings pitched.
Unsurprisingly, Brown was named Ivy League Rookie of the Year after leading the league in strikeouts, saves, innings pitched and opponent batting average (.183), as well as ranking in the top three in every other major pitching category.
Brown’s 9.8 strikeouts per seven innings pitched set a new school record and placed her 10th in the nation in that category—making her one of only two freshmen to crack the top 30 and earning her one of the two pitchers’ spots on the All-Ivy First Team.
But despite all the recognition and the records broken, Brown never anticipated such success.
“I definitely did not expect everything that happened,” she said.
“I didn’t expect to pitch as much [as I did], but I think coming into this, I knew this team would be something special.”
—Staff writer Kate Leist can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.