As the pennant race heats up, the Harvard baseball team takes a break from its Ivy League rivals and travels to Fenway Park this morning to meet its crosstown foes in the Beanpot.
The Crimson (20-9, 9-3 Ivy) takes on Northeastern (13-11, 9-3 America East) at 11 a.m. at the old stadium on Yawkey Way. Boston College will play UMass at 2 p.m. The consolation game will be on Thursday at 11, followed by the championship game at 2.
The Beanpot will not affect conference standings, which determine the teams that qualify for their conference championships and have a chance to advance to the NCAA regionals.
However, this midseason matchup will be a good test for Harvard and Northeastern, both of which have high hopes for the postseason.
The Huskies were in second place in the America East, trailing Delaware by two games, going into last weekend. Northeastern won both their conference and the MEAC tournaments to advance to the NCAAs last year.
The Crimson, which won the Ancient Eight and the MAAC championships to advance to the NCAA West Regional in 1997, is in a similar situation. Harvard is in first place in the Red Rolfe Division, leading both Dartmouth and Yale by three games.
The Crimson needs to clinch the division to enter postseason play.
Not only do the crosstown rivals' records mirror each other, their games are always competitive. The Huskies beat the Crimson, 6-3, last May at Northeastern, but Harvard evened the score last month with a 9-8 victory in Florida.
The rubber match will be settled before a backdrop featuring the Green Monster and the neon Citgo sign.
"It always means lot playing Northeastern, and it means more playing at Fenway," junior second basemen Hal Carey said. "The game does not mean anything in terms of the division race, but we are playing for bragging rights."
While the Beanpot may provide a special motivation, every game is important as the Crimson begins the home stretch in its quest to return to the NCAAs.
Although Harvard holds a commanding lead in the division, it has already lost more Ivy League games than it did during all of last season.
Harvard is also trying to bounce back from a disappointing series split at Yale last weekend.
"It is important to get back on track in the Beanpot," Carey said. "We did not play as well as we could have at Yale.
"Our defense has been the difference between this year and last year, but our defensive stoppers are the same guys. There is still time for everything to come together."
If this is the year that the Red Sox can finally shed the 80-year curse of the Bambino, then it is certainly possible for Harvard to resume the 10-game winning streak the Elis snapped Saturday. But Harvard only has 11 games after the Beanpot to make its final preparations for the postseason.
"We need to improve our team defense by playing as a team," senior captain and shortstop David Forst said. "Our best innings were when we played together.
"We still feel like we are in a good position in terms of the Ivy race, and we still have two weekends [against Brown and at Dartmouth] to put it all together," he added.
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