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In the top of the fifth in Sunday's game against Princeton, the score was tied, 3-3, Tim Bilodeau on first, and after a pinch hitter had failed to execute a sacrifice bunt, Vince McGugan came to the plate with one out.
On the first pitch McGugan took a big cut at a high fastball, and the Princeton third baseman moved back a couple of steps. On the next pitch, a curve ball, Bilodeau started to steal, and McGugan dumped a bunt down the third base line.
The third baseman charged in to make the play, but Bilodeau beat his throw to second, and McGugan was safe at first. The next better walked to lad the bases, and then Larry Barbiaux delivered a two run single. The Crimson went on to win the game, 7-3, securing a tie for first place in the EIBL.
"The key to drag bunting is doing it when the other team is off guard. I often swing hard at the first pitch and miss intentionally in order to make the infield think I'll be hitting away," McGugan said. "But what made that play against Princeton particularly effective was the fact that Tim was moving on the pitch. We have our own set of signals for this type of situation, and he knew what I was going to do," he said.
With last year's heavy hitters gone, Harvard has had to rely on an aggressive hit-and-run type offense to get its runs, and as lead-off hitter, McGugan has set the pace throughout the season. Leading the team with a 330 average, McGugan has stolen 27 bases in 31 games. He has two home runs, and is third in runs batted in with 16.
"As lead-off hitter I give the opposing players their first impression of our team. If I can get on base, then steal a base, their pitcher is in trouble immediately. He'll start to worry about other things, and lose his concentration," McGugan said. Last Saturday he led off both games against Yale with base hits.
McGugan has a Command of the finer points of base running that is rare even in the major leagues. The most important factor in base stealing is reading the pitcher's pick-off move, and McGugan concentrates on one particular spot of the pitcher's body. A right-handed pitcher cannot throw to first without lifting his back heel, while a left-hander has to move his back shoulder towards third.
Runs on Curves
McGugan tries to steal when the pitcher is throwing a curve because the ball takes longer to reach the plate and is harder for the catcher to handle. Even when the catcher's throw beats him, McGugan often avoids the tag by sliding to the part of the bag that is furthest from where the infielder receives the ball. In 29 attempts, McGugan has only been thrown out twice.
Another important maneuver in this year's offense is the hit-and-run play McGugan and the second batter in the line-up, Toby Harvey, use signals to tell each other what they are going to do on each pitch. On a properly executed hit-and-run, McGugan starts to steal to draw the second baseman out of position, and then continues to third when Harvey hits the ball through the opening created on the right side of the infield.
McGugan feels that Harvard's greatest asset is the confidence carried over from last season when the team finished fifth in the College World Series at Omaha. "Last year there was incredible pressure every weekend, and those of us who went through it have proven ourselves. We've been able to pass on our attitude to the new players, and it does wonders for our pitchers," he said.
Another area where McGugan contributes to the Crimson pitchers' peace of mind is on defense. McGugan has started at second base for three years, and last year he was named to the All-New England team.
"Vince has great range going to his right as well as to his left, and he gives us strength up the middle where we need it the most. "Roz Brayton said earlier this season. "I know that when I let the better hit the ball our guys will make the play, land that makes pitching much easier."
Major League Hopes
McGugan has always wanted to play for league baseball, and although he can go to law school if he wants to, his future plans will in large part be determined by the baseball draft in June. Seven major league scouts have already spoken to him.
As a pro prospect McGugan's biggest asset is his speed. The average major leaguer takes four seconds to get from the batter's box to first base, and McGugan has been timed at 3.5 seconds.
"I know that I can handle myself in the field," McGugan said, "and half the battle of hitting in the major leagues is having the mental toughness to get knocked down three or fur times and still stand in there."
But for the time being McGugan is thinking about another trip to Omaha. "The way we came back with three straight wins after losing to Brown last Friday proves this team can stand up under pressure. We've been making the big play all season long, and whenever we get into a clutch situation. I know that one of us will make something happen," he said.
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