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Already dealt a fatal blow by Title IX, Providence fell victim to the revitalized bats of the Harvard baseball team yesterday.
Never one to shy away from kicking a team when it's down, Harvard (14-12, 6-2 Ivy) scored 11 runs in the second and third innings to defrock the Friars, 13-6, yesterday afternoon at O'Donnell Field. Freshman shortstop Mark Mager hit his first collegiate homer, a two-run clout in the third, and junior Jeff Bridich and freshman Josh San Salvador added three hits apiece as the Crimson broke out of a mild offensive slump.
"We haven't hit the ball all season the way we did today," said Harvard Coach Joe Walsh. "One through nine seemed to go up to the plate and go after it a little bit. It was huge to have a big inning like we did today that wasn't caused by bases-on-balls and errors, but hitting."
Providence will eliminate its baseball program after this season in order to comply with NCAA gender-equity requirements, and the Friars (31-11, 7-6 Big East) have been cleaning house on their farewell tour. The top-ranked team in New England, Providence assembled a 15-game winning streak earlier this season behind an offense that scores 10 runs per game and a serviceable pitching staff.
But Harvard starter Mike Giampaolo kept the Friars at bay early. The junior placekicker yielded just two runs on six hits through five innings before giving way to the bullpen during a four-run sixth.
By then the Crimson already had a five-run cushion, and relievers Donny Jamieson and Ben Crockett slammed the door with three-and-one-third shutout innings.
"When we got the lead for Mike [Giampaolo], that was huge," Walsh said. "It helped me stick with him a little longer, and I knew that our bullpen had three or four guys out there who would be tough for them."
The day's action began in earnest in the second. What looked like a long day at the start of the stanza had the sweet scent of a pleasant surprise by the end.
After Providence sophomore Mike Scott led off the second inning with a single to left, senior Angelo Ciminiello cleared the bases with a massive home run well over the pines in left.
As the bottom of the inning began with Harvard down 2-0, Walsh anxiously paced the lip of his dugout, loudly urging his hitters to try to chase Providence's southpaw starter Ryan Lewis. It worked.
The Crimson put four runs on the board in the second, all on hard-hit balls. After senior catcher Jason Keck reached on an error, Bridich brought him home with a screaming double into the left-centerfield gap.
San Salvador followed with a single, and senior Andrew Huling knotted the game on a fielder's choice grounder to third. With Lewis already seemingly shaken, sophomore Scott Carmack and junior Eric Binkowski did the eight and nine spots in the order proud, tacking on a pair of RBI base knocks to the Crimson rally.
"All season we've been a little timid to swing the bats, and then today we just came out and said, 'Hey, we're going to have to hit with these guys,'" said Mager, who was hit on the back of the arm with a pitch near the end of the second.
The Crimson failed to reach the Friar bullpen after its initial four-run spurt, but Providence may have been better off if it had removed Lewis after the second.
Though Mager played only a supporting role in the second, he was the leading man of the next inning's drama. Giampaolo held the Friars scoreless in the top of the third, and Mager highlighted the bottom of the frame with a three-run blast to left.
Abandoning the gentle pecking that led to its first four runs, Harvard's seven third-inning scores came in bunches. A Keck walk and a pair of singles by Bridich and San Salvador loaded the bases for Huling, who tried to unload them with a sharp grounder to the right side.
First baseman Mike O'Keefe laid leather to cowhide, but the ball bounded off of his glove and into short right. Two runs scored on one of four Providence errors.
Three batters later, the bases again full, captain Hal Carey brought two more home on a roller up the middle to give Harvard an 8-2 advantage. The next hitter was Mager, who lined an 0-1 fastball just over the fence in left.
"I had a feeling he'd be coming inside with a pitch because he'd just drilled me the inning before," Mager said. "I was still very upset about that, and it was hurting, so I just wanted to hit it back at his head. He threw it inside, and one of the things I've been working on with Coach [Chip] Forrest is just snapping the hands, and I just pulled them through."
The 11 runs were plenty.
Giampaolo spotted his fastball well all game, only getting into trouble in the second and fifth, a noteworthy accomplishment against so potent a lineup. His final pitch of the game, a three-run homer to left by sophomore Daniel Conway, was only his second costly mistake.
"I had two pitches working, the fastball and curveball, and I just located the fastball hitting both corners, and I used the curveball to give them an offspeed look and keep them off-balance," Giampaolo said.
Yesterday's game was Harvard's fourth in three days, and this weekend against Yale will complete a stretch of eight games in six days. Given the strain on the pitching staff, it was particularly important that Giampaolo soak up innings against the Friars.
"He hadn't gone that far all season, and we were down a little bit in pitching having played so many games this week," Walsh said. "He gave us six strong innings; he made two pitches he wishes he could have back that were hit out of the yard, but Providence is that type of ballclub."
Crockett and Jamieson will both likely start this weekend despite pitching yesterday. Harvard will also send senior Garett Vail and sophomore John Birtwell to the hill in this, its penultimate home weekend of the season.
If there is an early favorite for Ivy Pitcher of the Year, it may be Birtwell, who was named Pitcher of the Week for the second straight week on Wednesday.
At 4-4 (11-19 overall), Yale sits in last place in the Red Rolfe division, but the Elis sport what is arguably the best pitching rotation in the Ivy. Therefore, the Harvard bats will need to be on their best behavior, or at least as good as they were yesterday.
"Yale has to be the most important series of the year," Mager said. "Yale is our biggest rivalry and we think we're ready for them. If we just play like we did today, and look to swing the bats, we'll be fine."
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