After graduating only three seniors from the 2013 squad and returning a host of players to its roster, the Harvard baseball team had its sights set on the top of the Ivy League—a place the program had not been since 2005.
But despite finding itself in the race for a berth in the Ancient Eight championship as it entered the penultimate weekend of the year, the Crimson (11-28, 5-15 Ivy) fell flat in the final games of the season—losing seven straight contests to end the year—and settled for last in the Red Rolfe Division.
“We obviously didn’t perform the way we wanted to perform,” junior co-captain Ethan Ferreira said. “We didn’t get as many wins as we thought we would in the beginning of the season.”
But the unfavorable results of those games largely shrouded the squad’s competitiveness. Five of the final seven conference losses were decided by three runs or fewer, and two went into extra innings.
Harvard often fell victim to the big inning on defense, as its opponents racked up hits and took advantage of Crimson walks and errors to put the game out of reach in a single frame.
“There were occasions when we’d have one bad inning and give up five, six, seven, eight runs,” senior utilityman Carlton Bailey said. “And after that, you’re kind of fizzled out mentally…. We [would] play well, and then [in] one inning everything would go wrong.”
These defensive breakdowns made it difficult to generate any momentum, as Harvard managed to win consecutive games only twice this season.
Despite a disappointing end result, however, the spring still contained plenty of positives. Perhaps the most notable was the team taking home the Beanpot championship for the first time since 2005.
Playing at O’Donnell Field on April 9, the Crimson recovered from a 4-0 deficit to outlast Boston College, 6-5, in a game in which six different Harvard hurlers took the hill. Twelve days later, the Crimson defeated UMass, 3-0, to bring the trophy back to Cambridge.
Harvard also registered three wins—one more than last season’s total—against tough competition on its annual spring break trip. The biggest victory of the week came in a 7-3 decision over Michigan State. After being blanked by the Spartans in the previous two games, the Crimson bats roared to life, with co-captain Kyle Larrow driving home four runs in the win.
Another bright spot came in Harvard’s first Ivy League game against Cornell. Things looked bleak when the Big Red tied the game in the bottom of the seventh, but Harvard never blinked. Larrow plated Bailey with a single in the top of the tenth to put the Crimson ahead for good.
“Surprisingly, in the dugout, it was very calm,” Bailey said. “There was no pressing; we were confident. And when we’re confident, we tend to play a lot better and we win games…. We were telling ourselves that if we were going to go that far, then we were going to win that game.”
The Harvard offense saw most of its production come from the top of its lineup. The team’s first three hitters—Bailey, Larrow, and junior outfielder Mike Martin—led the squad with batting averages of .319, .285, and .304, respectively.
On the defensive side, a young pitching rotation guided Harvard through the season with a capable one-two punch of sophomore Sean Poppen and freshman Nick Gruener. The duo led the team in innings pitched and posted 2.51 and 3.88 ERAs, respectively.
“[The pitching staff] looks awesome,” Bailey said. “I wish I could play for the next couple years behind these guys. The fact that they’re so young and performing at the level they are, there’s no telling what they’ll do in the [future].”
The 2014 campaign may have been a disappointment in terms of the team’s win-loss record, but the season was only Harvard coach Bill Decker’s second year on the job. The Crimson will have a host of young talent returning next spring, and Decker’s first true recruiting class will enter Harvard in the fall.
“I definitely feel that the team moving forward is going to be in contention for the title, because the coaches are starting a good foundation for this new program,” Bailey said. “I know they’ll be successful. If they’re not, I’ll be very surprised.”
—Staff writer David Steinbach can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.