The last time the Harvard softball team (17-11, 3-0 Ivy) lost was exactly three weeks ago. The Crimson put its seven game win streak on the line Thursday, traveling to Rhode Island (9-21, 4-2 Atlantic 10) after the game was postponed due to rain.
Though Ivy League play has commenced, Harvard continued its hot streak against the Rams with another dominant performance in the 5-1 victory. Junior pitcher Laura Ricciardone took the circle and the spotlight for the Crimson on the day.
Ricciardone has been stalwart for Harvard all season and showed no signs of slowing down on Wednesday afternoon. The junior currently has a 2.05 ERA, second best in the Ivy League, and holds a 9-5 record.
But in the second inning of Thursday’s contest, Ricciardone showed off another facet of her game. After notching a strikeout and shutting out URI in the first frame, the score was 0-0 in the second inning. From there, the Crimson began to put away its opponent.
After junior infielder Emily Gusse singled to left field, Ricciardone stepped to the plate. Ricciardone blasted a two-run home run over the fence, the first of her career.
“It was my third pitch of the at bat and had just swung and missed,” Ricciardone said. “I was thankful to get the opportunity to help my team on the offensive side and put some runs on the board and get our team offensively started.”
The inning wasn’t over yet though for Rams’ pitcher Caitlin Kennedy. Freshman Catherine Callaway drew the walk and junior Katherine Appelbe singled to left field. After a sacrifice bunt advanced the runners, co-captain Shelbi Olson singled to center field, stretching her hitting streak to nine straight games.
The hit brought in two runs and gave Harvard all the breathing room it would need. Ricciardone shut URI out for next three innings, allowing only two hits and striking out two batters.
From there, freshman Taylor Cabe pitched another three frames. While Cabe did give up a run in the bottom of the fifth inning, the Rams never seemed to pose much of a threat for the confident Crimson squad.
In the top of the fourth frame, Appelbe got Harvard going once again. After another single to left, junior Andrea Del Conte singled to center. Then, Olson came through with another piece of hitting.
The senior singled to right, driving in Appelbe and giving Harvard a 5-0 lead.
“Shelbi is a very consistent hitter for us in the leadoff spot and is very reliable,” Ricciardone said. “She is a great source of consistency both defensively and offensively for the team.”
During Harvard’s win streak, the team has scored five or more runs in each of its contests, taking much of the weight off of its pitching staff’s shoulders. Leading the way has been Olson, who is batting .354 to go along with 14 RBIs.
While co-captain Kasey Lange had a quieter than usual day, the senior has already blasted four homeruns, as well as driven in 21 runs. Harvard’s offense has also torched its Ancient Eight competition, averaging 7.25 runs per a game in the league this season.
“We are finally hitting our stride and starting to play Harvard softball more consistently,” Ricciardone said. “Our offense is really coming alive. This half of the season we have seen a lot of pitchers and had a lot of at-bats, so everyone’s eyes are really on point.”
But offense hasn’t been the only key to the win streak, as the team has become much more sound on defense since returning from its spring road trip in California. The last official time Harvard gave up more than three runs was March 19, a game they won 9-4.
Heading into the weekend, the Crimson have a tough schedule, so only playing one game this week was very important. Harvard will take on league rival Brown, playing two double headers in a two-day span.
“We felt like it was good preparation for the weekend to get a single game in,” Crimson coach Jenny Allard said. “We are excited to play in some nice weather. I think we are starting to get on a roll and we are excited to have a nice weekend.”
—Staff writer Andrew Farber can be reached at email@example.com.