Co-captain pitcher Rachel Brown, shown here in earlier action, pitched nine shutout innings in Friday's Ivy League Championship Series to help Harvard to a two-game sweep over Penn. The victory gave the Crimson its second straight conference title.
Yes, co-captain Rachel Brown was her dominant self Friday, and yes, sophomore slugger Kasey Lange’s hit led to the only run in Game 1 of the Ivy League Championship Series against Penn.
But those facts obscure the general picture.
The Harvard softball team claimed its second straight Ivy League title on Friday at Soldiers Field not because of any one dominant performance but thanks to a total team effort. In a sweep of Penn by scores of 1-0 and 5-2, the conference champion's depth proved too much for the visiting Quakers to handle.
HARVARD 5, PENN 2
After being held to one run in Game 1, the Harvard offense responded from top to bottom in the series-clinching second game. Nine Crimson hitters recorded a total of 12 hits off Quaker pitcher Alexis Borden, who led the league in ERA.
”This team has done an unbelievable job of playing whatever role they can play to help the team win—however big, however small,” Harvard coach Jenny Allard said. “It shows that this team is 21 strong.”
No player embodied that mentality more than junior Stephanie Regan. Regan hadn’t played in three weeks since being sidelined with a knee injury and still wasn’t healthy enough to play the field. But coming back Friday as the designated hitter, she collected a single in the first inning and was immediately replaced by a pinch runner. In her second at-bat, which didn’t come until the sixth inning, Regan hit a ball to left that scored one and usually would have given her at least a double, but the injured runner instead hobbled into first before being removed from the game for the final time.
On the day, three other hitters tallied RBIs, as freshman Adrienne Hume scored one in the third with a walk before co-captain Whitney Shaw drove another home with a sac fly in the following at-bat. Hume pushed Harvard’s lead to three with a single in the fifth, and Lange added a run with a single in the sixth before scoring on Regan’s single.
On the mound, sophomore Laura Ricciardone was mimicking Regan, fighting through pain to help her team achieve its second straight Ivy title. Ricciardone hadn’t pitched since leaving the mound with a twisted ankle two weeks ago. Her rust didn’t show Friday, though, as she held Penn to three hits and two runs—both unearned—in five innings of work. One of those runs came in the fifth on an error, and the other came on a groundout after the runner had taken third base on a wild pitch.
“She was a total champ,” Brown said. “We all knew she was in pain although she wouldn’t show it. She is one of the toughest competitors I’ve ever played with, so it was incredible to see her do what she did.”
Ricciardone wasn’t able to register a complete game due to a comebacker that struck her squarely in her leg. She attempted to pitch again but was pulled from the game. Brown came back in to finish the series off.
“It’s fun to be on the field when you win the championship series, but Laura was pitching really strong, so it was a shame that she had to come out,” Brown said. “I really wanted to finish the game strong for her because she had pitched her heart out.”
HARVARD 1, PENN 0
When the Ivy League’s two best pitchers, Borden and Brown, faced off against each other in Game 1 of the Ivy League Championship Series, a low-scoring pitchers’ duel was guaranteed. Both pitchers matched expectations, making no mistakes and holding opposing hitters to a combined six hits. In the end, it would be the defenses behind the two aces that made the difference.
Through five innings, both offenses had combined to collect just three hits, but the Crimson attack finally broke through in the bottom of the sixth. The offense was afforded a golden opportunity when Borden walked the first two batters in the inning, and Lange quickly took advantage.
After a strikeout by sophomore Shelbi Olson, Lange hit a weak ball up the middle that just got by the pitcher. Penn second basemen Samantha Erosa then attempted to get senior Jane Alexander out at second, but her toss sailed past the shortstop, allowing junior Ashley Heritage to score from third.
That error proved costly. One run was all the Crimson needed, as the Harvard pitching and defense remained flawless in sealing the 1-0 win.
“I had total confidence and belief in this team that we were going to win. We had been there before, and we had experience playing in important games, and I thought it was only a matter of time before we would score,” Brown said. “I was definitely nervous, but I had no doubt that my team would pull through.”
—Staff writer Jacob D. H. Feldman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.