In the Harvard softball team’s biggest early season matchup, the Crimson fought Cornell in a back-and-forth contest that required extra innings to be decided. In the top of the eighth inning, the Crimson broke the tie with an RBI single, and with two outs, Big Red pitcher Lauren Marx was hoping to limit the damage and end the inning as senior Jane Alexander stepped to the plate for the next at-bat.
The last time Alexander had faced Cornell, it was the 2011 Ivy League Championship Series where she went 0-for-6 in the two-game series while batting eighth in the lineup.
But the hitter in the batter’s box on March 30 was a completely different player than the one who had batted .252 in 2011.
This time, Alexander drove a ball over the left field wall, bringing in three runs and breaking the game open as Harvard went on to cruise to a 6-2 win.
In her senior campaign, Alexander led her team in hits, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, runs and extra-base hits as her breakout year helped the Crimson claim a second straight Ivy League title. For her efforts, Alexander was named Ivy League Co-Player of the Year.
“Last year my play was good enough to help the team, but it wasn’t my personal best,” Alexander says. “I got surgery after freshman year, and I kind of allowed that to affect my performance. Last year it was still affecting me a little bit mentally, and this year I made the decision to not let it do that. It’s the most frustrating thing in the world to not be able to play to your potential, but my teammates were there for me and helped me get through it.”
Instead of being affected by her wrist, Alexander has been bothering opposing pitchers from the outset of the season. Alexander began the year by recording a hit in 16 of the team’s first 18 contests. That hot start earned her the leadoff spot.
“We were trying a lot of people out to see how it felt in the lineup, and Jane kept coming on strong,” Harvard coach Jenny Allard says. “All the coaches agreed that Jane was the right girl for the job.”
“We’ve really looked to her as a senior to take over that No. 1 spot in the lineup and give us a spark, and she really has stepped up to do that,” Allard adds. “I think every position in the lineup is important, but the leadoff spot is so critical for setting a tone, and when you have a player that comes to the plate and is mentally ready to go and battles hard in the at-bats, that sends a message that we are going after you to the pitcher.”
In addition to sparking the team early, Alexander has shown a propensity to come up big late in games as well. Though she only homered three times this year, two of those dingers came in extra innings. In addition to her three-run blast against Cornell, Alexander hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th to beat Brown, 2-1.
“That’s the best part of softball, bottom of the seventh or bottom of the 10th, and the game is on the line on your bat,” Alexander says. “There is so much energy on the dugout and the field.”
For her first three years, Alexander was fairly consistent, batting .222, .228, and then .252. Then, senior year brought a remarkable jump to .408, one she credits in part to a strenuous offseason routine. Alexander spent more time working on her swing back home in California with a former coach, and continued to perfect her stroke before the season began.
“I expected myself to be better because of the work I put in,” Alexander says.
Another element of her breakout performance was the motivation that comes with playing as a senior.
“Going into your senior year, there is just a mental component that you can’t really have until your senior year,” Alexander says. “Knowing you are going into the last year of the sport you dedicated your whole life to was something that was just a great motivator.”
Co-captain Rachel Brown says that motivation was evident in practice.
“She has such great drive and motivation, so she is so inspiring for her teammates,” Brown says. “She just really plays like this is her last opportunity.”
Alexander’s energy is hard to miss in the field as she jumps around at the beginning of each inning and after each out before refocusing.
“We always knew she had this in her, and it’s really great to see her breakout like she did,” Brown says.
—Staff writer Jacob D. H. Feldman can be reached at email@example.com.