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There really isn’t a good reason why the Harvard baseball team should be playing for the Ivy League championship this weekend, and that might be the most convincing proof that the Crimson deserves to be there.
Who would have thought that Harvard would have been able to get past a high-powered Brown lineup while held to a meager four hits through eight innings? Who would have thought that Ben Crockett could hurl a one-run gem on three days rest, nearly breaking the Harvard strikeout record he set a couple weeks ago? Who could have seen CrocKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKett coming?
Well, it all happened. But while Crockett may be a beast, throwing him on three days rest again on Sunday would warrant a call from the Humane Society. Walsh himself said that he will not start his ace this weekend. That means that Harvard will be without its best arm against Princeton unless, as Walsh noted with a wink, rain forces a game to Monday. As of yesterday, the National Weather Service predicted “mostly cloudy” skies on Sunday, with “a chance of rain during the afternoon and night.”
So, it could happen. “Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s… a sustained drizzle!” And then, Superman gets to show up the next day.
With the obstacles facing the Crimson, one could easily find reason to pray for rain. Sophomore Marc Hordon, whose 1.61 Ivy League ERA in four appearances is tops among starters in the conference, will also be unavailable to pitch due to a shoulder injury suffered last weekend. Senior Justin Nyweide will likely open the three-game series, but the usually steady starter has struggled lately, giving up nine runs in 2.1 innings to Dartmouth in his last appearance. Sophomore Trey Hendricks, the team’s best hitter and a strong candidate to start one of the games, came up lame trying to slide into second on Wednesday and had to limp out to the team’s postgame celebration on the field.
And, of course, defending Ivy League champion Princeton won its division outright last week, and its rotation will have enjoyed a full week’s rest.
But anyone who finds a Harvard victory beyond improbable doesn’t know the meaning of the word. The correct definition of improbable is 5’9 senior Faiz Shakir, who may have solidified an unexpected reputation as one of the great clutch hitters in Harvard baseball history.
With his game-winning bloop to shallow left—really shallow left—on Wednesday, the light-hitting but very capable Shakir relived a moment he authored as a freshman in 1999, when his bases loaded single in the bottom of the ninth won the Crimson’s last Ivy title.
The 1999 hit lifted the Crimson past another Princeton team. The 2002 hit set the stage for a return to that level of greatness.
“It was garbage,” said a smiling Shakir, who barely made contact with the Stern curveball. But the knock and its link to the past suggests that Faiz may have one last ugly game-winner left in him.
“I hope not,” Shakir said. “I hope we win by ten or something.”
That would be the most improbable event of all, and with this team, it makes you wonder why it couldn’t happen. After all, for all his recent struggles, Nyweide had one of his best starts of the year against Princeton a month ago. Memories of his two-run complete game victory over the Tigers on Apr. 6 should give him some needed confidence. Nyweide played catch with Mickey Kropf, Harvard’s newest hero, right after Wednesday’s game. Nyweide looked fierce, determined and almost angry—not a man to bet against.
Senior righthander Chaney Sheffield will never produce the line of Ks that lined the railing of the O’Donnell Field bleachers on Wednesday, but he has been a quietly effective Sunday starter for the Crimson this year. Though he generally won’t last beyond five or six innings, he can give way to the suddenly rejuvenated bullpen of juniors Kenon Ronz and Barry Wahlberg and senior Mike Dryden. Hendricks, if healthy, can also get the Crimson at least that far.
Meanwhile, Princeton’s Ryan Quillian’s junior year has not quite lived up to his sparkling 2001 Ivy Pitcher of the Year campaign. He is 2-4 with an ERA above 5.00, and Harvard beat him in the game Nyweide started en route to two-game sweep. Although he was stellar in his Lou Gehrig Division-clinching win over Cornell last weekend, he and the Tigers’ other starters are beatable. Solid, but certainly not invincible.
Pitching can carry the Crimson partway in any of this weekend’s games, then, as it has all year. One can only hope that the hits are there. If all else fails, if instant heroes like Kropf on Wednesday and Josh San Salvador a week ago fail to materialize, then the always daring, constantly tinkering Walsh can make one last bold move as Shakir waits in the on-deck circle.
Somebody get Ben Crockett a bat.
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