The Harvard softball team (21-11, 7-0 Ivy) is playing in a league of its own right now. The Crimson has won 12 straight contests and is playing with the utmost confidence.
What has been the secret to Harvard’s recent success? Look no further than junior pitcher Laura Ricciardone.
Named to the second team All-Ivy in her sophomore campaign, Ricciardone has pitched at an even higher level in 2014. The Slidel, La., native is 11-5 in the circle this year and has posted a team best 1.90 ERA.
Ricciardone has the fourth-lowest ERA in the Ivy League, has totaled the second-most wins, and ranks fourth in total strikeouts. She has been named Ivy League Pitcher of the Week three times already, the most recent of which followed wins over Boston College and Penn.
“Laura is strong for us,” Harvard coach Jenny Allard said. “She comes in and attacks batters, has command of all her pitches, and really stepped up to win those games.”
This past week, Ricciardone continued her dominance.
Facing Columbia in the first contest of a double-header, Ricciardone pitched a complete game and allowed no earned runs. In seven innings, Ricciardone gave up only six hits, while striking out seven batters to help Harvard remain unbeaten in the Ancient Eight.
“It was a strong outing for our team and the conclusion of our southern division tour,” Ricciardone said. “We really wanted to come away with two wins, and [it was] important that we didn’t drop any games in that division. We wanted to finish our pseudo-opening weekend with two wins, and we were able to go out and do that.”
Ricciardone then faced the University of Rhode Island in a mid-week matchup, albeit limiting her innings due to the heavy pitching load.
“We wanted to get the whole staff pitching time,” Ricciardone said. “Our offense produced enough runs so that we could do that, and defense was solid.”
Nonetheless, the junior did not let the limited numbers of batters she would face deter her from putting on another clinic. In the three frames she pitched, Ricciardone gave up only two hits, struck out two batters, and allowed zero runs.
But that wasn’t even the biggest highlight from the junior’s outing. In the top of the second, with the game scoreless, Ricciardone belted a two-run home run, the first of her career, to help secure the 5-1 win over the Rams.
“I didn’t practice hitting at the beginning of the season, but [I] picked it up at the end of our California trip,” Ricciardone said. “I had been not hitting to focus on the pitching, but now that I am healthy, I am happy to have it back as part of my game.”
Allard’s decision to rest Ricciardone was certainly a prudent one. Only two days later, Ricciardone pitched 11 innings in less than 48 hours.
In the first of four games against Brown, Ricciardone pitched a complete game. In seven innings, she gave up only one run on four hits while striking out six batters to earn the 4-1 win.
Ricciardone’s bat refused to cool off. A single to left field resulted in her third RBI of the week, and the junior added another the following day. Since returning from the team spring trip to California, Ricciardone has six hits and six RBIs.
“I give the credit to her,” Allard said. “She came to coaches and asked to hit…. The team was struggling at times, and she came to us asking if she could swing the bat.”
The following day, Ricciardone took the circle for the fourth time that week. While most pitchers would be tired from already pitching 17 innings over the past few days, the junior didn’t miss a beat.
“The Brown series is always difficult,” Ricciardone said. “It’s taxing to face the same hitters over and over again, so you need to really have command of your pitches and a solid defense behind you to rely on.”
It would take Ricciardone only 17 batters to make it through her four assigned innings. She allowed only five base runners on the afternoon, while giving up no runs on the day.
“She commanded her pitchers and attacked their weakness,” said Allard. “She was phenomenal…. She has really been stepping up for us this year, and there is no question.”
The last time Ricciardone lost a game was March 21, and if she keeps pitching like this, she does not look poised to lose anytime soon.
—Staff writer Andrew Farber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.