Entering the final weekend of Ivy League play, just four baseball teams remain in contention for a coveted spot in the Ivy championship series. And for the first time since 2006, one of those slots might belong to Harvard.
The Crimson—which won three of its four contests against Ancient Eight competitor Brown last weekend—currently sits second in the Rolfe Division, just behind its final conference test: Dartmouth.
The Big Green (18-15, 11-5 Ivy) and Harvard (11-27, 7-9) will meet for a home-and-home set of doubleheaders, starting at O’Donnell Field on Saturday and moving north to Hanover, N.H. for the final two games on Sunday.
And the stakes are high. A single win against the Crimson will guarantee Dartmouth a spot in the championship series, as the Big Green currently holds a four-game lead over Harvard thanks in part to an impressive four-game sweep of Yale last weekend.
“For us, it’s do or die,” said senior second baseman Jeff Reynolds. “But we like our chances. We’re capable of beating Dartmouth four times if we play up to our potential. We’ve had some good practices this week, and we’re going to be ready to go.”
Harvard can catch Dartmouth in the Ivy League standings if it wins all four of its contests this weekend. If that happens, the Crimson will have forced a fifth matchup between the Crimson and the Big Green—a one-game playoff to determine the Rolfe Division representative at the Ivy Championship Series.
“We definitely have a high mountain to climb,” senior southpaw Brent Suter said. “We need to win five games in a row to stay alive…. Dartmouth is a good team, and they’ve been good for all our time here. It’d be a great way to send off our seniors by having a good weekend against them.”
Between Harvard and a shot at its first Ancient Eight crown since 2005 stands a formidable Big Green lineup. Dartmouth comes into the weekend on a nine-game winning streak and has won seven of its last eight Ivy games. After its most recent four-game sweep of Yale, two Big Green pitchers—Kyle Hunter and Thomas Olson—garnered weekly All-Ivy honors.
“Our pitching and our defense are both going to be key,” Suter said. “We can’t have any errors, and we’re going to need some timely hitting…. We need to be on our game for all four games and, like coach always says, play with a chip on our shoulder.”
Dustin Selzer—who leads the league with 34 RBIs—will likely be another player to watch for this weekend.
For the Big Green, a piece of history is also at stake, as the team looks to make its fifth-straight trip to the Ivy Championship Series—a program record.
“They’re a team that is used to winning, which is one of their biggest strengths,” Reynolds said. “But that’s also something we can turn into our own advantage if we come out strong…. If we get them on their heels by winning the first few games, we could take four or five from them.”
But a Harvard team that started off the season dropping 16 of its first 17 games has steadily improved over the course of 2012, culminating in its three-win weekend against the Bears.
“We had a lot of guys step up [against Brown],” Reynolds said. “[Senior] Marcus Way hit a walk-off homerun, which was huge, and Jake McGuiggan…drove in a lot of runs for us. We were putting together really good at-bats all weekend. It was nice to see everything come together for us.”
The Crimson can also lay claim to the two most recent nods to the Ivy Player of the Week list in Reynolds and McGuiggan. Reynolds currently leads the Crimson with 49 hits and 21 RBIs, while McGuiggan holds a team-best .349 batting average.
The senior went a stellar 11-of-18 at the plate in Harvard’s best week of the year, helping the Crimson to three conference wins.
“Stuff is coming together nicely for us now,” Way said. “We’ve had some struggles both pitching and hitting, but everything has come together. We’re going to need to pick up where we left off if we want to beat Dartmouth.”
In the Gehrig Division, a similar storyline to that of the matchup between Dartmouth and Harvard will play out in the next few days as well. League-leading Cornell holds a three-game advantage over the defending Ivy champion, Princeton, and will close its season with four games against the Tigers.
Cornell needs at least two wins to punch its ticket to the conference championship series, while Princeton needs a sweep. If the Tigers win exactly three games, there will be a one-game playoff to decide which team will represent the Gehrig Division in the final series of the 2012.