The Harvard softball team had a lot to live up to as it entered the 2012 season. Coming off a year in which it won the Ancient Eight title and swept the awards for Ivy League Rookie, Pitcher, and Player of the Year, all eyes were watching to see if the Crimson could pull off a repeat performance.
But despite a string of injuries and the loss of Ellen Macadam ’11, the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year, the Crimson managed to handle the pressure and repeat as Ancient Eight champions and leave its mark in the NCAA tournament.
“We definitely lost a huge player in Ellen Macadam,” says sophomore third baseman Kasey Lange. “But [senior infielder] Jane Alexander was so big in filling that spot. This team, especially the freshmen, stepped up huge as well, and thanks to everyone’s hard work, we didn’t take a step down from last year.”
Harvard finished the regular season with a 33-13 overall record, going 17-3 in Ivy play to earn its third consecutive North Division title. The team led the conference in batting average (.291), fielding percentage (.966), and ERA (1.84).
In championship play, the Crimson swept Penn in two games, winning Ivies for the second year in a row. Harvard allowed the Quaker offense a total of just two runs and seven hits, while the home team produced six runs and 15 hits of its own.
“A crowning moment was winning Ivies,” Harvard coach Jenny Allard says. “It was a huge goal, and if the team had not won this championship, it would’ve left a bad taste on their year. It really showed how well-rounded the team was, since the first championship game was won with great defense and pitching, and the second game was won with great offense.”
And, unlike last year, the team continued doing damage after leaving the Northeast with a conference title. The team lost its first tourney game against Washington but avoided elimination in back-to-back games the next day. With a 3-2 win against Maryland, Harvard became the first Ivy squad sine 2005 to win a tournament game. It followed up that performance with a 2-0 victory over Texas Tech, the team that knocked the Crimson out of the 2011 tournament with a 7-0 win.
The victories set up a rematch with the Huskies in the Regional Final on May 20; back-to-back wins would propel an Ivy team into the Super Regionals round for the first time since 1996, when Princeton accomplished the feat.
But the Crimson fell to Washington, 4-0, bringing an end to the historic year.
Leading the Crimson defense this season were hurlers Rachel Brown and Laura Ricciardone. Brown is the squad’s KO machine, using the movement of her rise ball and changeup to strike out 232 batters in 2012, the best mark in the Ivy League.
Ricciardone, on the other hand, is a master of precision and holds Harvard’s all-time record for fewest walks allowed per seven-inning game (.81).
Together, the two pitchers provided Harvard with a one-two punch that blanked its opposition a total of 11 times this year.
But despite its eventual success, the road to the championship series was not always easy for the Crimson defense.
The infield suffered several losses this season, as sophomore catcher Ali Scott was out with a concussion, and Ricciardone had to miss a weekend of play due to a sprained ankle. Freshman catcher Katie Appelbe ultimately stepped in for Scott, and junior Jessica Ferri, senior Marika Zumbro, and rookie Gabrielle Ruiz filled the need in the bullpen.
“We were battling a lot of injuries, and for the team to step up and continue to win shows a lot of grit,” Allard says.