Softball Claims First ECAC Title

Michael W. Nitsch

The Harvard softball team’s reaction is a mixture of disbelief and elation after coming back from a two-run last-inning deficit against Princeton in mid-April.

There was plenty of advance warning that the softball doubleheader on April 13 between Ivy unbeatens Harvard and Princeton would be among the league’s best sporting events of the year. With young talent and a legitimate Ivy Player of the Year candidate on each side, it promised to be the most competitive Ivy softball ever played.

It certainly lived up to its billing.

The Tigers entered the bottom of the seventh in each game with a crooked-number lead. But instead of wrapping up the Ivy title, Princeton left Soldiers Field with just a split—and it was fortunate to escape with even that against the never-say-die Crimson.

Ever resilient, Harvard achieved a 31-10 season—the best by percentage in school history—as well its first ECAC title in school history.

All of this came in spite of a young roster of 15 freshmen and sophomores, one junior and four seniors. For such an inexperienced squad to match Princeton for the Ivy title was ultimately beyond reality. Still, the Crimson proved in the end that it wasn’t necessarily beyond its capability.

On April 21, Cornell and its ace Sarah Sterman dealt an abrupt death blow to Harvard’s Ivy title hopes. The Crimson, which featured the 12th most productive offense in the nation this year, shouldn’t have been troubled by any Ivy pitcher. Yet Harvard couldn’t lay off Sterman’s high pitches and the mighty Crimson offense wasn’t managing much more than pop-ups.

“We’re young,” Harvard Coach Jenny Allard said at the time. “We keep making these mistakes.”

Sophomore pitcher and Second Team All-Ivy pick Kara Brotemarkle kept the game tied 0-0 until the fifth, but then a few bloop hits and defensive miscues loaded the bases for Cornell’s top hitter, Lauren May. The end result was a 5-1 Cornell win, and Harvard finished the Ivy season 12-2, a game behind Ivy champion and NCAA qualifier Princeton.

Harvard’s chance at redemption came against Cornell in the postseason ECAC tournament. In its second chance against Sterman, the Crimson was determined to hack only at good pitches.

Second Team All-Ivy shortstop Rachel Goldberg, a sophomore who drove in two runs, and sophomore second baseman Sara Williamson, who went 4-for-4, played with passion. With the score tied 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth, junior tri-captain and Ivy Player of the Year Tiffany Whitton doubled home Williamson for the game-winning run.

Sterman was defeated. Allard could not help to think of what might have been.

“If we would have done this and came out like we did, this game, against Cornell at their place, we would have been having a play-in against Princeton,” Allard said.

From the Crimson’s perspective, the tragedy of the Ivy season was that no playoff ever occurred between Harvard and Princeton. Instead, Cornell—who struggled early in the season against Princeton but played strong enough to split with Harvard late in the season—decided the Ivy champion.

But a playoff would have had a tough time living up to the excitement of the regular-season doubleheader.

After dropping the first game with Princeton, 4-3, Harvard found itself down 4-2 in the bottom of the seventh of the nightcap. With one out and the bases empty, sophomore Breanne Cooley strode to the plate with the season on the line.

Four batters latter, Harvard had delivered four straight singles. Then, with two outs, Whitton drove a grand slam out of the park to delight the largest home crowd of the season. Final score: Harvard 7, Princeton 4.