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The Harvard baseball team will be seeking its third straight Eastern League (EIBL) title when the batsmen travel to Yale tomorrow for a nine-inning playoff against Princeton.
The 2 p.m. game with determine which of the teams advances to next weekend's NCAA Northeast Regional Both squads finished their EIBL schedules with 15-3 records.
The Crimson enters the game with the confidence that comes from winning 13 straight and 23 of its last 25 contests. More importantly, after losing three of its first eight league games. Harvard swept its last 10 to force the playoff.
"We've been in 10 playoff games already," Crimson Coach Alex Nahigian says, referring to the must-win nature of every game down the stretch. "The kids responded," Nahigian adds. "They rose to the occasion Let's hope they continue."
Now they're confident they can rise to tomorrow's occasion. "I think the hardest part is behind us," says senior designated hitter Mickey Maspons, whose triple gave Harvard a dramatic. 3-1 come from-behind won at Dartmouth last weekend. "I think we're peaking right now."
Injuries could be a factor for both teams. Crimson shortstop Tony DiCesare didn't play against Dartmouth last Saturday because of an arm injury suffered in batting practice Sophomore Mike Pakalnis called in for him.
I'm feeling pretty optimistic" about playing tomorrow. DiCesare says now "UHS diagnosed it as a less ligament. I tend to think it's less serious than that."
Tiger second baseman Mark Leavitt was hurt in practice two days ago and may not be able to play.
Princeton (28 10 overall) split with visiting Harvard (29-8) in a doubleheader April 5 Senior Jeff Musselman tossed an 11-strikeout two-hitter as the Crimson took the opener, 3-2, but Mike Fiala countered with a four-hitter to give the Tigers the second game, 4-1.
Princeton boasts the top two hitters in the EIBL, as well as two of the league's best pitchers.
Probable starter Scott LaForest (8-0) compiled an 0-8 4 ERA against league opponents. Fiala, who appeared in 11 of the Tigers' 18 EIBL games, will likely be ready in relief.
Center fielder Dan Arendas leads the league in hitting (.473) and has already set a Tiger record with 21 doubles this season. Shortstop Todd Leavitt is second in the league in hitting (.442) Right fielder Drew Stratton has pounded a school-record 11 home runs, more than twice as many as Jay McNamara, the Harvard leader.
The Crimson will counter with Musselman (9-1, 2-42 ERA), who has twice as many strikeouts as hits allowed.
"This is what we've been looking for all year long." Musselman says. "I just really can't see us losing Saturday Whoever they pitch. I think our bats are ready I'm just gonna try to do what I've been doing."
What he's been doing is outstanding. He shut cut Northeastern and Tufts, no-hit Penn, won both ends of a doubleheader at Cornell and fanned 10 while beating Dartmouth.
"He will be tough to beat," predicts Maspons, Musselman's roommate.
For offense, the Crimson will look to virtually everyone Eight players have more than 20 RBI, only three starters hit below .325, and the team's top three hitters--Paul Vallone (.375). Scott Vierra (.364) and Mcamara (.361)--all hit in the bottom half of the order.
If the bottom line is experience, the Crimson will win Saturday. With nine seniors on the team, no freshmen in the starting lineup, two years of post-season experience and the pressures of the last 10 EIBL games under their belt, the batsmen have a clear edge in must-win situations.
And they've never been more confident. Says McNamara, "We've just confident so far that there's no way Princeton's gonna get in our way."
THE NOTEBOOK: Princeton's exams start Monday...The Tigers led the league the entire season, as the Crimson played catch-up. When Princeton was 10-2. Harvard was 2-2 When Princeton was 11-3, Harvard was 5-3 in a series dating back to 1868. Harvard leads, 101-78-2...In 1974, the last time these teams met in an EIBL playoff, Harvard won, 5-3 Right fielder Chris McAndrews has hit safely in nine of his last 10 games, and third baseman Vierra has hit safely in 13 of his last 15. Two years ago. Harvard won the championship by beating Navy, 10-1, at Cornell. The situation was different from this year, though, because it wasn't really a playoff game Harvard had tied the Midshipmen (rain stopped the game) during the regular season, and because league rules state that ties cannot determine the champion, the 14-3-1. Crimson played the 13-4-1 Midshipmen. If Navy had won, a second game would have broken the tie... Crimson Captain Elliott Rivera and Arendas are tied for the league lead in hits (26) and total bases (44). Rivera is tied with Stratton in RBI (22)--McAndrews went three for six with a double against the Tigers this year--McNamara, the Crimson home run leader (5), hadn't earned a starting spot when Harvard played Princeton earlier this year, and Vierra hadn't yet moved from left field to third base. Another change in the Harvard lineup occurred when second baseman Bob Kay broke his finger against Columbia. T.J. Andre has taken over and has seven steals in as many attempts Kay might be able to return if Harvard makes it to the regional Yale Field. Just across the street from the Yale Bowl, is the nicest stadium in the league, and many Harvard students plan to take a mid-exam period break to see the playoff. "We're gonna get a lot of fan support," predicts Maspons.
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