Baseball powerhouses are supposed to be built in the South and West where weather and great interest in the sport combine to put thousands of kids into youth leagues from the age of seven on. So it is with some surprise that the baseball "experts" from warmer climates are viewing Harvard's amazing charge to a 35-3 record and a berth in the NCAA College World Series to be played in Omaha this week.
In the southern parts of the country, baseball schedules run from the first week of March through the middle of May so that often the teams coming into the World Series from District III (the South) and District VIII (California) sport records the likes of 60-10 or 55-8. This by itself often has a psyching power over the teams that come from latitudes where snow falls as late as the first week of April and the outdoor season begins a couple of weeks thereafter.
But luckily for the Crimson, their real strength lies in the one thing that tends to offset extra weeks of play and practice--in the "great equalizer"--pitching.
Throughout the season, it has been very strong pitching that has carried the Crimson batmen to wins in some close games and eventually the EIBL and District I championships.
"I tell you," Harvard coach Loyal Park said earlier in the spring, "if we get to Omaha this year, it will be because of our pitching. And if we do get there, our chances will depend on our pitching also."
Roz Brayton, the Crimson ace, has come through in every important game for Harvard this year. Brayton, who has allowed only a handful of earned runs in his entire collegiate career, is expected to get the call in the Crimson's opening game, most likely with defending national champion Southern Cal.
But equally important in Harvard's charge to the title has been the excellent hurling of Don Driscoll, Norm Walsh, Mike O'Malley and a host of others.
Driscoll, with a wicked slider and great control, was blazing his way through an undefeated season when he sustained an ankle injury. He has come back, though, in spectacular fashion as he threw a four hitter to down Northeastern in the NCAA playoffs.
Two of the best hitters in New England, Northeastern's Tom Rezzuti and Mike Archambault, told Crimson catcher Rich Bridich that O'Malley was the toughest pitcher they had faced all year. O'Malley chalked up a perfect 3-0 record in the GBL play and combined with a 0.54 league ERA to make the GBL all-star team.
Norm Walsh, whom Park calls "my most valuable pitcher," has served the Crimson time and time again in key relief situations. "What makes Norm so valuable is that Bob [Lincoln-pitching coach] and I have complete confidence in him. We feel we can call on him any time and have him do a great job for us."
Also in the bullpen are Sandy Weissant, who has lost only once in college ball; Barry Malinowski, the Crimson fireballer; Mike Holt, who has had a sore arm recently, but who did a bang-up job earlier in the year; and Keith Schappert, another key relief man for Harvard.
But Harvard is not going out West just with a top-heavy pitching staff, not, that is, when your team also has six starters averaging over .300 in regular season batting. Things look even rosier when you consider that the two regulars under .300--Jim Stoeckel and Rich Bridich--connected on home runs in Harvard's playoff victories at Fenway Park. Also, Bridich went on a tear in GBL play to record a whopping .438 average.
Naming the leading hitters would be just like running down a list of the squad, but to glance at a few leaders there is Kevin Hampe, the leading hitter in the EIBL with a .419 average; Ed Durso, runner-up to Hampe in the Eastern League batting race, and Hal Smith, who blasted two home runs in one playoff game last week, not to mention his six other hits in 13 at bats.
The last time Harvard went to the World Series was 1971 when they trounced Brigham Young, 4-1, before losing two one-run games to Tulsa and Pan American.