After a fast start, Harvard softball coach Jenny Allard’s squad will look to continue to breakthrough during spring break in the final leg of its opening nonconference stretch.
The Crimson (6-4) will compete in two tournaments and 12 games in California, starting with the San Diego Classic II on March 15-17.
Harvard, which has yet to play at home, will look to build upon its success from two weeks ago when it won the Purple and Gold Challenge at Louisiana State. The Crimson took four of five in the Bayou, including an upset victory over No. 23 LSU to capture the title.
The tough competition continues this weekend, as Harvard faces the Texas-Arlington Blaze (13-11), the Long Beach State 49ers (16-7), the Texas Tech Red Raiders (18-6), and the San Diego State Aztecs (16-7).
The tournament promises to be one that will test the Crimson, particularly with familiar opponents such as the Aztecs and the Red Raiders. The host Aztecs received votes in the latest top 25 USA Softball poll.
“I’m excited about San Diego State and Texas Tech,” Harvard captain Shelbi Olson said. “We’ve seen both of those teams multiple times in my career here, and they’re always good competition.”
Harvard has seen strong pitching from its starting rotation, led by junior and two-time Ivy League Pitcher of the Week Laura Ricciardone. The team has held opponents to 29 runs through its first 10 games while posting a 1.77 ERA.
Offensively, the Crimson has had its share of standouts in the batting rotation. Junior shortstop Emily Gusse leads the team with a .407 batting average and has yet to strike out this year.
Senior third baseman Kasey Lange has also helped carry the load for the team at the plate, leading Harvard with five RBIs to go along with a home run and two doubles.
Despite Gusse and Lange’s performances, Allard believes the Crimson’s offense could improve and achieve more balance.
“In the lineup, we’re looking for other players to step up and be more consistent,” Allard said. “We’re looking for our seniors in the lineup to step up a little bit more…. We want to have consistent offensive production, one-through-nine in the lineup.”
Doing so will be a tall task for Harvard, which will have to deal with full bullpens of quality pitchers.
San Diego State’s sophomore ace Danielle O’Toole has posted 11 wins on the season, tied for eighth in the nation. In addition, Long Beach State senior Erin Jones-Wesley has nine wins in 14 appearances, and Texas Tech sophomore Gretchen Aucoin has posted a 1.03 ERA, among the top 35 in the country thus far this year.
With such potent arms on the mound against an offense that has been inconsistent, sustaining its pitching advantage will be key for the Crimson.
Ricciardone has shared the mound this season with sophomore Morgan Groom, junior Gabrielle Ruiz and reigning Ivy League Co-Rookie of the Week Taylor Cabe. Groom is close behind Ricciardione in earned runs average with a 1.21 ERA through 17.1 innings pitched this year.