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No fanfare for this home opener--just a new scoreboard for the gallery, and a must-win for the Harvard baseball team.
Actually, today's 2:30 p.m. go-round with Columbia isn't the real bread-breaker. The Crimson dropped a 16-9 decision to Tufts last Friday to inaugurate the Electronic Era at Soldiers Field, but as fun as those games may be, the scoreboard wasn't built for the Greater Boston League.
Today's Eastern League contest is the more meaningful home opener. The Lions (3-3 EIBL, 10-7 overall) are always tough for Harvard, and you may see Kurt Lundgren pitch the kind of ballgame Rollie Acosta did the last time Columbia came north, back in the manual scoreboard days. Lundgren, a sophomore from Nanuet, N.Y., leads the entire 59-team ECAC in strikeouts with 60, and despite a 2-4 record and three straight bad outings, he's a guy capable of getting hot and whiffing 16 like he did while shutting out Dartmouth last year.
That would be bad news for the Crimson, which needs a win. You can throw out the 7-8 overall record with the Jim Keyte file photos, but a 1-2 league mark is no way to go about defending a title. Harvard can't afford to be 1-3.
Columbia's offense is led by four freshmen and senior co-captain Mark Hanewich, a catcher from South Attleboro. Hanewich has slammed three homers while hitting .362 this season, but youngsters Jim Goryeb (.410). Gene Larkin (.385), and John Witkowski (.342) and Mike DiChiano (.296) have transformed the Lions, 9-21 last year, into a genuine title threat.
It's those hitters plus two less strenuous games against lackluster Penn on Saturday, that induced Crimson coach Alex Nahigian to use his best hurler, Bill Larson, this afternoon. Larson, 3-1, leads the club in just about every pitching category, and although his strikeouts (13) are nothing like Lundgren's, he doesn't have a three-week slump to worry about, either.
Harvard's surprise offensively has been Donnie Allard. Everyone always knew he could hit, but a slow start this season nearly finished the sophomore the way it did last year. Instead, Allard has caught fire. He is now hitting .276, and his 17 runs batted in lead the team, as do his six doubles. Nahigian's increased confidence in him is evident; after opening the season at the bottom of the batting order, the right fielder is now batting fifth. With six hits in his last 11 at bats, he is the squad's hottest hitter.
Allard's production has compensated for shortstop Brad Bauer's semi-slump. Bauer's average still nests around .350 but his run production has tailed off since coming north. With the graduation of sluggers Mark Bingham and, Charlie Santos-Buch, the pressure of knocking in runs has been unfairly placed on the sophomore shortstop. Not that he can't handle it, but he just shouldn't have to go it alone. Allard's rejuvenation and the hitting of first baseman Vinnie Martelli have helped.
Today's game is also important because it can easily trigger a three-game sweep. Penn, as one professional baseball-watcher put it, "just doesn't have it this year," and the fact that their starters have completed just two games of 21 seems to bear him out. The Quakers are young, inexperienced and rebuilding. A sweep would leave Harvard 4-2 and in good shape, and put some pressure on frontrunners--Cornell, Navy and Yale--who haven't forgotten last year's stretch run.
Nahigian has picked his second and third starters, Billy Doyle and Greg Brown, for tomorrow's twin bill. Both have looked good and bad, so the high earned-run averages (5.82, 5.14) are somewhat misleading. Then again, the figures are a good indication that last year's pitching consistency hasn't yet returned. Doyle has been hit hard (25 safeties in 20 innings); both have been hurt by walks.
For some good news, Nahigian has found his lead-off hitter in freshman center fielder Bruce Weller. A quick singles hitter with a bit of power, Weller has matched his solid play in the pasture with a nice performance at the plate. He walks often (11 in 64 plate appearances), can steal bases and has hit around .330 all season. Nothing special compared to Columbia's kiddie corps, but good enough for second on the team around here.
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