It took two games for the bats on the Harvard baseball team to warm up. But once they did, the Crimson came through when it mattered most.
Facing off against Michigan State (9-8) in Greenville, S.C., the Spartan pitching staff shut out Harvard (2-9) in the first two games of the series to capture 1-0 and 4-0 victories.
Despite dropping Saturday’s doubleheader, the Crimson would have the last word and came through in full force on Monday, scoring seven runs in two big innings to secure a win against its Big Ten opponent.
“We really showed how we can all come together in a situation that was kind of against us,” junior Brandon Kregel said. “I think that’s a huge testament to our confidence and how we can play together as a team, especially coming off the losses.”
HARVARD 7, MICHIGAN STATE 3
Despite temperatures in the upper-30s and rain that ended the game after eight innings, the Crimson battled to a 7-3 victory in the final contest of the series.
The Harvard bats came alive in the team’s biggest offensive showing of the season to date, as a three-run second inning and a four-run sixth propelled the Crimson to the win.
It was senior Kyle Larrow who delivered the knockout blow. With the bases loaded, no outs, and the game tied at three in the top of the sixth, Larrow smacked a triple to right field that plated all three baserunners. One batter later, Kregel brought Larrow home to put the Crimson up four.
“[Larrow’s hit] was huge,” Kregel said. “But it all started with [sophomore Mitch] Klug hitting a leadoff double that was really big kick starting that inning…. Kyle’s bases loaded triple really capitalized on that whole inning. I think that was really huge collectively.”
Harvard jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in the second inning, as the Crimson loaded the bases with two outs and proceeded to score on a single, walk, and hit batsman. Patience was the key to the rally, as Michigan State starter Walter Borkovich issued four free passes in the frame.
The Spartans would battle back in the bottom of the fifth and scored three runs – just one of which was earned – off Crimson senior starter Sam Dodge to tie the game.
But Harvard responded with a heavy hand in the next half-inning, breaking the game open to seize a 7-3 lead. Junior Tanner Anderson entered in relief to secure the win by shutting down the Michigan State offense with three scoreless innings.
“We really took advantage of opportunities with runners in scoring position today,” Kregel said. “In the first two games, we left a lot of runners on base…. We had a lot of people come up in big situations [today], and I think that really helped us.”
MICHIGAN STATE 4, HARVARD 0
Offense was hard to come by for the Crimson in the rubber game of the Saturday doubleheader, as the Spartans jumped out to an early lead and cruised to a 4-0 win.
Harvard could never quite figure out Michigan State sophomore starter Justin Alleman, who tossed eight innings of four-hit ball. The Crimson loaded the bases with two outs in the top of the fourth, but the runners were stranded after Alleman forced a foul pop up.
That would prove to be the last scoring opportunity for Harvard, as the team recorded just one hit in the final five innings of play.
The Spartans got on the board in the first frame against freshman pitcher Nick Gruener. A double from cleanup hitter Ryan Krill plated two runs. Gruener would eventually settle in, at one point retiring 11 straight batters, but the freshman was replaced after allowing a two-run triple in the bottom of the sixth.
Michigan State finished with just six hits in the game, but they came at opportune times–the second through fifth spots in the lineup were responsible for all of the knocks.
MICHIGAN STATE 1, HARVARD 0
In a classic pitcher’s duel, all that separated the two squads in game one of the series was a single run.
The decisive inning came in the bottom of the fifth, when Michigan State senior Joel Fisher led off with a double against Crimson sophomore starter Sean Poppen. A bunt moved Fisher to third, and a sacrifice fly one batter later brought home what would prove to be the winning run.
Poppen finished with a clean line despite taking the loss, as he surrendered just four hits while striking out six—three of which came in the fourth inning. The sophomore has an earned run average of 2.00 and has completed six innings in each of his three starts.
An efficient pitching performance from the Spartans made it difficult for the Harvard bats to get going. Despite only striking out five times, baserunners were hard to come by for the Crimson as two Michigan State hurlers combined to allow just three hits.
For Harvard, the biggest scoring opportunity came in the top of the fourth. A Kregel double coupled with a fielder’s choice and an error loaded the bases with two outs, but Spartan junior pitcher Mick VanVossen induced a fly ball to right field that ended the threat.
—Staff writer David Steinbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.