Seeing your starting spot disappear is tough. It’s even tougher when you had dominated the year before.
Last season, then-freshman pitcher Morgan Groom started 19 games, posted the third-best ERA in the Ivy League at 2.58, and finished in the league’s top five with 96 strikeouts. Despite those electric numbers, Groom has gone from the number one option in the circle to the third for the Harvard softball team.
“Groom brings great experience to the staff,” junior pitcher Laura Ricciardone said. “She handled the bulk of the work last year and has returned with even more experience and talent.”
After being named to the All-Ivy second team, Groom has only started five games for the Crimson this year. Groom has pitched more relief innings and has had fewer starts, but her reduced role isn’t the result of poor performance.
Instead, the return of Ricciardone and the addition of freshman Taylor Cabe have led to a new one-two punch for Harvard coach Jenny Allard.
“Laura is in tremendous shape,” Allard said. “She really has returned in the best shape of her career. Her stamina is terrific.”
Two years ago, Harvard won its second consecutive Ivy League championship and two NCAA tournament games. But that’s all a distant memory now.
As Ancient Eight play commences, the quartet of Ricciardone, Cabe, Groom, and junior Gabrielle Ruiz will be tasked with the lofty expectations of returning Harvard to the top of the league and clinching a spot in postseason play.
After spending last season training at home, Ricciardone has returned to carry the pitching load for Harvard. Though she was not with her team last year, Ricciardone still followed the team’s lifting schedule and trained individually.
With a record of 5-5, Ricciardone has an ERA of 2.42 and has already fanned 39 batters in 73.2 innings. She currently has the third-most strikeouts, second-most wins, and eighth-best ERA in the Ivy League.
The junior hurler, who was second-team All-Ivy her sophomore year, showed some of her old tricks on Opening Day this year. She pitched a complete game shutout, allowing only three hits and racking up eight strikeouts to beat Eastern Michigan.
“We are expecting [Ricciardone] to pick up where she left off end of her sophomore year, and she’s done that,” Allard said.
Ricciardone struggled against Florida Gulf Coast, conceding three earned runs and picking up her first loss of the season. But a week later, Ricciardone reminded her teammates of just how assertive she can be in the circle.
Facing No. 22 Louisiana State on its home turf, Ricciardone shut out the Tigers. The junior was ruthless, pitching a 12-inning complete game, striking out nine batters and only allowing seven hits.
“It’s great to have Laura back,” Groom said. “She was really strong her first two years and has brought a lot of experience to our staff.”