For three years, co-captain Rachel Brown battled for circle-supremacy with the established ace of the Ivy League at the time, Elizabeth Darlymple of Cornell. After being named Ivy League Pitcher of the Year last season, Brown is now the queen of the league while Penn freshman Alexis Borden has emerged as the next up-and-comer with the skills to pull off a coup d’état. On Saturday though, Brown defended her throne.
Borden and Brown entered Saturday’s duel as the only two pitchers in the league with over 100 strikeouts, more than 10 wins, and sub-2.00 ERAs, with Borden leading in wins and ERA. The matchup might be the pair’s only battle before Brown graduates.
The Harvard ace entered the game coming off of one of her best pitching performances of the year. The day before her duel with Borden, Brown had dominated Columbia, holding the Lions to one hit in a complete-game shutout, her fourth of the year.
“She had good command of her pitches, she was really zoned in on working ahead in the count, and all her pitches were breaking well,” coach Jenny Allard said. “It was a very strong outing for her.”
Brown needed the strong outing to get back on track after a number of uncharacteristically shaky starts during the week prior. Starting back at a Mar. 27 loss to Bryant, Brown had accrued an ERA of 4.67 in her last five appearances (including one inning of relief work) coming into the weekend, nearly three times as high as her current ERA for the year.
“There are ups and downs and rhythms to a year,” Allard said. “She started the season strong, but just like hitters, pitchers face struggles during the year.”
Less than 24 hours after blanking Columbia, Brown’s struggles appeared to return in the first inning against the Quakers.
Penn’s leadoff hitter got on with a single to right field, which was followed by a double that left runners at first and third with no outs. Brown would have to battle out of the jam against Kayla Dahlerbruch, who sits third in the Ivy League in RBI and was next up in the Penn Lineup.
Brown managed to strike out Dahlerbruch swinging, but trouble still loomed. Next up was the Quaker’s cleanup hitter, Brooke Coloma, whose 16 RBIs to-date put her eighth in the league. But Coloma went down swinging just like Dahlerbruch.
That brought Jessica Melendez to the plate. Melendez has hit five home runs this year, fourth most in the league, but she was still unable to avoid her teammate’s fate as she struck out looking. Three of the league’s toughest hitters sent back to the dugout—boom, boom, boom. Hail to the queen.
“I definitely got fired up in the first inning and had a lot of adrenaline pumping,” Brown said. “Whenever runners got on I really tried to bear down and make my pitches work.”
After Brown escaped the first inning relatively unscathed, it was Borden’s turn to struggle. The rookie eventually ended the frame with two stikeouts and a groundout, but not before a barrage of base hits came together to give the Crimson a 4-0 lead over Penn.
Following the wild first inning, both pitchers settled into the duel everyone expected, combining for six strikeouts over the next three innings while only allowing four batters to reach base.
As the fifth inning rolled around, Brown found herself in another jam. Back-to-back singles and a double gave the Quakers their first run while setting the table for more. After a strikeout by Penn’s 2-hitter, the tying run stepped to the plate in the form of Dahlerbruch. After her first-inning strikeout, the sophomore got revenge with a single that drove in two and turned the contest into a one-run ballgame. Brown came right back and ended the inning with a strikeout.
After both offenses failed to change the tally in the bottom of the fifth or in the sixth inning, Brown took to the circle in the top of the seventh as Harvard clung to a 4-3 advantage.
The senior quickly took control of the inning by striking out Penn’s No. 9 hitter, Stephanie Caso, who had scored during Brown’s rocky fifth. Another strikeout and a groundout later, Brown had officially squashed Borden and Penn’s attempt at insurrection. In the game, she struck out 13 of the 29 batters she faced.
“They are being talked about as potentially being in the Ivy championship,” Brown said. “It was a great personal win for me over their pitcher and a great team-win over Penn.”
Long live the Queen.
—Staff writer Jacob D. H. Feldman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.