Behind a strong offense and the league’s top pitcher, the Harvard softball team dominated the Ancient Eight in 2011 and cruised to a conference championship. But the Crimson's season came to an abrupt end, as it was unable to score a run in either of its two contests in the NCAA tournament and was quickly eliminated.
After using a similar formula to win the Ivy League once again this year, history seemed to be repeating itself for Harvard in its first game of the 2012 tournament.
Facing No. 18 Washington (39-17, 7-15 Pac-12) Friday night, co-captain pitcher Rachel Brown pitched well, but Huskies starter Kaitlin Inglesby was even better, shutting out the Crimson, 2-0, at Husky Softball Stadium in Seattle, Wash.
The sophomore won her 19th game of the year by three-hitting Harvard (35-15, 17-3 Ivy) in the first-ever meeting between the two schools and the Crimson’s fifth tournament appearance in program history.
The Huskies’ offense managed only two runs, which came on a Kimberlee Souza double off Brown in the bottom of the fourth. But that was all Washington needed to pull out the win in the first game of the round-robin tournament, as Inglesby struck out junior Ashley Heritage with the tying runs on base to end the game.
“We weren’t nervous,” Crimson coach Jenny Allard said. “I think we were really focused on Friday, [but] they were really zoned in.”
Inglesby shut the Crimson down one-two-three in the top of the first. In the bottom of the inning, Brown worked around two walks and got Kylee Lahners to fly out with two runners on to end a Washington threat.
Harvard got the first hit of the game in the top of the second, when freshman Katherine Lantz singled to right, and senior Whitney Shaw walked with two outs to put runners on first and second. But rookie Adrienne Hume flied out to left field to end what would be one of Harvard’s few chances on the day, as Inglesby held the Crimson hitless in each of the following four innings.
“[Inglesby] did a really good job of mixing her speeds,” Allard said. “She was faster than what we normally see.... In our conference, the max speed is 60 to 61 [miles per hour], but she was throwing probably 65 to 66.”
Brown shut Washington down in the second and worked around a two-out triple by Nikia Williams in the third to keep the game scoreless. But with one out in the fourth, Huskies center fielder Jerrin Faasua reached on a bunt single, and Shawna Wright followed with a single to left. They were sacrificed to second and third by Hooch Fagaly, and Souza followed with a double to left center to bring home the game’s first two runs.
Brown then struck out Kimi Pohlman to limit the damage, and after keeping Washington off the board in the fifth, the Harvard ace worked out of a first-and-third, no-outs jam in the following inning to give her team one final chance.
With the game on the line in the top of the seventh, Lantz lined out to second, but sophomore Ashley Scott hit a shallow single to right, and Shaw followed with a line-drive single to left to put the tying runs on base. Hume then beat out a potential double-play grounder to put runners at the corners with two outs, but Inglesby struck out Heritage to end the game.
“We didn’t string hits together,” Allard said. “We had isolated quality at-bats.... The ball wasn’t dropping where we needed it.”
Inglesby finished with seven strikeouts and held the top three of Harvard’s batting order hitless, helping Washington snap a seven-game losing streak.
Despite the loss, Brown—the 2011 and 2012 Ivy League Pitcher of the Year and the Crimson’s all-time leader in wins, saves, strikeouts, shutouts, and innings pitched—said she was proud of her team’s performance in the first game of what would be her final postseason appearance.
“I definitely think the experience [in last year’s tournament] helped us,” Brown said. “We kind of knew the level of the play that was required to stick with a top-20 team, and I think we really represented ourselves well.”
—Staff writer Scott A. Sherman can be reached at email@example.com.