Softball Starts Ivy League Play With Princeton

It doesn’t really matter what your record is coming in. It doesn’t matter if you’re 22-0 or 0-22. When Ivy League play opens up, everyone is 0-0.

For the Harvard softball team (11-11), a clean slate will begin on Friday, as the Crimson travels to Princeton (5-15) to take on the Tigers in a doubleheader and begin play in the Ancient Eight.

Following a disappointing three-game losing streak to end last season, Harvard is hoping to regain its 2012 form when it finished at the top of the conference. For the Crimson, that journey starts with beating the Tigers on their home field.

Harvard is riding a two-game win streak, but it wasn’t all sunshine for the Crimson out in California. Prior to the pair of victories, Harvard posted a 3-7 record on the trip, struggling to score runs and lacking with its play on defense.

Nonetheless, the team will look to carry its newfound momentum into New Jersey on Friday, as the Crimson looks to take advantage of a weaker Princeton squad.

Though the trip to California may not have been as successful as planned, the final two games were won in convincing fashion.

The team allowed a combined three runs and scored a total of 15 in the pair of contests to outscore their opponents by a combined 12 runs.

“As a team, we’re looking to build off of what we had the last day of spring break,” captain Kasey Lange said. “If we have all cylinders firing, we’ll put ourselves in a really good position to win this weekend.”

Harvard will need to play its own game in order to defeat the Tigers. The Crimson features an array of big hitters —including Lange and junior infielder Emily Gusse—and has scored more than five runs in 10 of its contests so far this season.

“Offensively, we know we can get runners on base,” Lange said. “We just need to focus in and get the timely hits that will get us on the board.”

Lange, who is a three-time All-Ivy selection, set the all-time home run record for Harvard when she achieved 30 career four-baggers last year.

In what will be her final season, the Ladera Ranch, Calif. native has picked up right where she left off, blasting three long balls and posting a team-high batting average of .347.

On defense, Harvard’s number one and two pitchers, junior Laura Ricciardone and freshman Taylor Cabe, respectively, will handle the bulk of the innings with relief from sophomore Morgan Groom.

Ricciardone has a 2.42 ERA and has already fanned 39 batters in nearly 67 innings pitched this season. For her part, Cabe has posted a nearly identical 2.44 ERA.

While Groom has thrown fewer innings than the starting duo, a 2.13 ERA makes her a legitimate third option.

“We plan to play Harvard softball,” Ricciardone said. “[We want to] execute good pitches and have solid defense.”

As a staff, Harvard’s pitchers have done just that. The group boasts a 2.38 ERA and has held opponents to a .252 batting average on the year.

In fact, earlier this season, Harvard held No. 22 Louisiana State scoreless for 12 innings en route to a 1-0 win in Baton Rouge.

The rotation has also combined to pitch four total shutouts and has surrendered just one run on three separate occasions to earn victories.

“We are looking for strong starts out of Laura, Taylor, and Morgan,” Crimson coach Jenny Allard said. “We are looking at our pitchers to come out and be strong in the first inning, attacking their offense.”

Although the Ivy League has a reputation where any matchup can be unpredictable, the Princeton offense has been far from impressive so far in its campaign.

Senior Maddie Cousens and junior Rachel Rendina have been the Tigers’ best hitters, but Allard is confident that if Harvard focuses on its own play, it should be just fine.

“We are focused on ourselves,” Allard said. “Princeton is still a great team, and it’s going to be a great matchup.”

Since returning from California, Allard has been preparing her team by emphasizing the importance of coming out strong to begin games. Consistency will be key, especially at the start of conference play.

Though Princeton has struggled to find wins as of late, Harvard will still have to come out with hot bats if it wants to have a 2-0 record after Saturday.

Indeed, the team takes on Cornell the next day, and the bus ride to Ithaca will feel much shorter if the Crimson can do just that.

“We’re excited to being conference play,” Allard said. “We need to focus on playing our game and coming out strong. Pitching, defense, and timely hits will be important. We are trying to fire on all cylinders.”

—Staff writer Andrew Farber can be reached at andrewfarber@college.harvard.edu.

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