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The Harvard softball team had the hottest finish of any spring team in 1996, winning its last 12 games.
Unfortunately for the Crimson, the first 26 contests also counted.
Hurt by inconsistent play at the beginning of the season, Harvard (21-17, 9-3 Ivy) struggled early on. The unending winter of 1996 also didn't help, canceling the team's first scheduled tournament in March and two other doubleheaders in early April.
"The weather was a huge factor--we lost our first tournament, which would have given us five more games," coach Jenny Allard said. "We were struggling and needed to play and that hurt us a lot. It cost us momentum."
So by the time the Crimson's bats and gloves were kicking into shape in late April, the damage had already been done. Harvard's 9-17 start (3-3 Ivy) cost it any chance of winning its first Ivy League title and returning to the ECAC Tournament, where it finished second last season.
Still, a second-place finish in the Ancient Eight isn't a shabby accomplishment, especially since the league's champion--Princeton--finished eighth in the College World Series.
"We made strides against Princeton and really should have beaten them," Allard said.
It was back on April 21 when the Crimson took on the Tigers down in New Jersey. The game was scoreless for five innings, with Harvard failing to capitalize on several chances to score first. Princeton then struck three times in the sixth for the 3-0 win.
After that day, though, Harvard never lost again. Included in that stretch were three wins where the eight-run mercy rule had to be invoked and two victories over Providence--the team that defeated Harvard in last year's ECAC Tournament final.
"I was very pleased and impressed with our end-of-the-year run," Allard said. "The team never gave up, but there was a general feeling that it took us so long to get going."
Harvard got going at about the same time that the white stuff stopped falling from the sky--in late April.
The season did start with tournaments in sunny Sacramento and Fremont, with Harvard playing some of the top teams in the country. And the Crimson put in a good showing, winning five while dropping seven.
However, when the squad returned to Cambridge, Mother Nature was littering Soldiers Field with all sorts of precipitation, and the team's play was equally unaesthetic.
Sloppy defense cost Harvard two games against Central Connecticut State, a team it swept last year. On the other side of the field, a lack of offense resulted in five shutout losses, including four straight at one time.
Still, Harvard was able to jell at the end of the season, salvaging what could have been a very disappointing campaign. The Crimson ended with the same 9-3 second-place finish in the Ivy League that it had last year.
"At the end of the season, we had everything working," Allard said. "If we had played 15 more games, we would have won them."
While the ECAC Tournament snubbed the Crimson, choosing Brown instead--Brown beat Princeton and Harvard once each--seven Crimson players earned All Ivy distinctions.
Co-captain Amy Reinhard, Harvard's all-time base hit, runs scored and stolen base leader, was named First Team All-Ivy for the second straight season. The senior shortstop finished second on the team with a .336 batting average and led the Crimson with 11 stolen bases, 25 runs scored and 20 RBI.
Also named to the First Team were junior rightfielder Melissa Kreuder, who was third on the Crimson with a .325 batting average; and sophomore centerfielder Jenny Franzese, who hit at a .351 clip.
Junior third baseman Katina Lee, who paced Harvard with four homers and 20 RBI, and sophomore pitcher Tasha Cupp, who led the team with 10 victories and 60 strikeouts, earned Second Team All-Ivy honors. Honorable mentions went to senior second baseman Danielle Feinberg and junior co-captain Melissa Reyen, who played first base.
The Crimson is losing only Reinhard, Feinberg and speedster Sue Traub to graduation, so Harvard should improve as a team next season--weather permitting.
"I expect within the next two years that we will have an Ivy League title," Allard said. "We have the tools to do it next year. We just need the attitude, the effort and the belief."
Harvard Sports Stats 1995-96
Record: 21-17, 9-3 Ivy
Ivy Finish: Second
Head Coach: Jenny Allard
Captains: Amy Reinhard '96, Melissa Reyen '97
Other Key Players: Tasha Cupp '98, Jenny Franzese '98, Melissa Kreuder '97, Danielle Feinberg '96
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