Junior right fielder Ashley Heritage, pictured above in a previous contest, scored the winning run in the Harvard softball team’s 3-2 extra-inning victory over Maryland on sophomore Kasey Lange’s RBI double to left center. Saturday’s victory was the Crimson’s first in the NCAA tournament since 1998.
Entering Saturday, the Harvard softball team faced two elimination games if it wanted its season to last one more day. Seventeen Rachel Brown strikeouts later, the season was very much alive and well.
Behind two standout performances from the senior ace, the Crimson won both of its contests on Saturday, topping Maryland, 3-2, in extra innings before beating Texas Tech, 2-0, later in the day. The pair of victories set up a rematch with Washington, who dealt Harvard its first tournament loss on Friday.
HARVARD 2, TEXAS TECH 0
The Crimson (35-15, 17-3 Ivy) didn’t have long to celebrate its season-saving win over Maryland, as it had to quickly turn around and continue fighting for its tournament life against No. 23 Texas Tech (41-17, 13-10 Big 12).
A year prior, the Red Raiders had knocked Harvard out of the tournament with a 7-0 shutout. This time, the Crimson got its revenge.
After throwing 142 pitches in the day’s first matchup, Brown looked just as strong in game two as she pitched her third complete game in two days, finishing the two-day performance with a three-hit shutout.
Afterwards, Harvard coach Jenny Allard said she intended to potentially use three pitchers against Texas Tech to curb its offense and tapped Brown as the starter because she was still loose. But Brown shut down the Red Raider offense, leaving Allard no choice but to continue riding her ace.
“I pitched successfully against Texas Tech last year, but we also knew that we had very capable other pitchers, so if I had a rough inning, I knew I had a short leash,” Brown said.
Meanwhile, the Harvard offense put two runs on the board to put the team in its first Regional Final in program history. Both of those history-making runs came in the bottom of the fourth as the Crimson played small ball. Two singles and a groundout put runners on second and third, and then a bunt and sac fly brought both home to put Harvard up 2-0.
In the bottom of the seventh, Texas Tech led off the inning with a single but then hit into a double play. Sophomore Shelbi Olson corralled a deep fly ball to right field to end the contest. The out elicited a huge fist pump from Brown on the mound before the team gathered to celebrate its historic win.
HARVARD 3, MARYLAND 2 (8 INN.)
In its first game of the day at Husky Softball Stadium in Seattle, Wash., a pair of doubles helped the Crimson earn the Ivy League’s first win in an NCAA tournament game in seven years. Harvard gained and then lost a two-run lead in the fifth inning against No. 50 Maryland (34-22, 10-8 ACC) but then scored the winning run in the eighth inning to earn another game with a 3-2 victory.
The win was Harvard’s first in the tournament in 14 years and ended Maryland’s season.
Through four innings, the pitchers were having their way. Brown had given up one hit while Terrapin hurler Kendra Knight held Harvard hitless.
To start the fifth, freshman Katherine Lantz broke up the no-hit bid with a lead-off single. A sacrifice bunt moved Lantz to second, who then came home on a double by senior Whitney Shaw. Freshman Andrea Del Conte came in to pinch run for Shaw and consequently moved to third and scored on a pair of singles.