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The Harvard softball team posted a 3-9 record over spring break to push its overall mark to 4-14. That’s a reversal from a year ago when the team was 12-4 by the end of break and lost just 10 games all season. But the poor pre-Ivy record does not necessarily portend bad times to come. In fact, it could mean just the opposite.
The underlying cause of the contrasting starts is strength of schedule. Last year’s opposition was relatively weak, and wins over Patriot League foes like Lafayette did not help much come Ivy season. The Crimson posted its best record ever in 2002, but it also went without a share of the Ivy title for the first time since 1999.
“This year we faced much tougher competition and it was great to be challenged by very competitive teams,” said Harvard coach Jenny Allard. “Last year we were not challenged enough in our pre-season.”
Harvard starts league action with a home doubleheader against Dartmouth on Sunday. A doubleheader today against Holy Cross, a game Thursday against BC and a doubleheader Saturday against Maine will be the Crimson’s last opportunities to work out its kinks.
“This team will be ready by the end of the week,” Allard said. “We need to continue to gain momentum and have strong consistent performances.”
The team’s record is its worst since 2000, when the team started 4-15. That is also the last year Harvard made the NCAA tournament. But whether this team can learn as much from its pre-Ivy play remains to be seen.
“We'll use this week to put any missing pieces together, and I think the team will come out strong and ready when Ivies start,” said junior tri-captain Kara Brotemarkle.
Over break, Harvard most recently split a home doubleheader with BU on Saturday. Earlier in the week, the Crimson got swept in doubleheaders against Tennessee-Chattanooga and Georgia Tech, but split with Georgia State. In the first weekend of break, the Crimson went 1-3 at the Buzz Classic.
Assistant coach Terri Teller was in charge of the team for the four doubleheaders after the Buzz Classic. On March 24, Allard flew home to be with her partner who delivered a healthy baby boy.
Of the teams Harvard faced, Georgia Tech was the most distinguished, having been one victory away from making the College World Series last year. The Crimson started strong with 2-0 leads in both games, but could not hold on. Harvard also held a lead against Georgia Tech last season before faltering.
For the break, tri-captain Tiffany Whitton and sophomore catcher Laura Miller were the offensive leaders for the Crimson, which has struggled to a .232 average against tough pitching thus far. Miller’s .350 average leads the team, while Whitton is right behind at .340. Sophomore Beth Sabin leads the Crimson with 12 RBI.
Harvard split its first home doubleheader of the season against BU, falling 8-3 in the first game but bouncing back 3-1 in the second. Harvard had won single games against BU each of the past two seasons.
“I think we could have taken two from them, but we did some good things in both games,” Brotemarkle said. “We need to focus on coming out hard for both games.”
On the strength of Brotemarkle’s pitching, Harvard led 2-1 after four innings. But BU touched up sophomore Lauren Tanner and freshman Michele McAteer for five runs in the fifth and held on for the 8-3 win.
“Against BU we had one bad inning which determined the outcome,” Allard said. “It was great that the team battled back to take the second game.”
In the second game, Harvard went up 3-0 in the first. That was all the offense McAteer needed. She pitched six solid shutout innings before being pulled after surrendering a run in the seventh. She upped her record to 2-3 on the season.
McAteer and Brotemarkle having gotten most of the innings for the Crimson. Harvard’s staff is the youngest it has been in years since Suzanne Guy left the team and Whitton chose to focus exclusively on hitting. Five pitchers in all have seen action in the circle for the Crimson.
“Our pitching has progressed over break,” Allard said. “We are trying to come together as a staff. Kara is becoming more consistent and Michele has thrown some great games.”
Harvard’s lone victory in its three southern doubleheaders came on March 25 by a 4-2 margin in the second game against Georgia State. McAteer gave up two runs in 4.2 innings for her first collegiate win. The Crimson fell 6-0 in the first game.
In the first game against Georgia Tech the next day, sophomore Cecily Gordon’s two-run single put Harvard up 2-0 in the third. In the circle, Brotemarkle made just two crucial mistakes—surrending a two-run homer than a three-run homer to Georgia Tech’s Tara Knudsen. The Yellow Jackets triumphed, 5-2.
“Playing a team like Georgia Tech let us see what will happen if we misjudge even a small thing,” Brotemarkle said. “The upside is that we have seen the result and next time we see them, or a team similar to them, we should handle the situation better and come out on top in both games.”
In the second game, Whitton’s two-run double to put Harvard up 2-0, put Georgia Tech came back against McAteer and Tanner to win the game 3-2.
“In the end, they came through with the clutch hits,” Whitton said. “Maybe next time we'll come with the clutch hits. That's the greatest thing about playing forty games in a season.”
Harvard had few positives from its March 27 doubleheader at Chattanooga. The Crimson fell 10-2 in the first game and 6-0 in the second.
Harvard has had past success in the Buzz Classic tournament, having placed second in the 25-team tournament as recently as two years ago. This time, it was not to be as the Crimson went 1-2 in round robin play and fell 6-4 in its bracket opener against Mercer.
The Crimson came from behind to go up 4-2 against Mercer on the strength of two home runs by Miller, but Mercer came back for four runs off Brotemarkle in the final frame.
Harvard’s lone win in bracket play was by a 5-2 margin against Charleston Southern. Whitton homered in the victory and Brotemarkle earned the win. Harvard fell 10-3 to North Carolina and 7-2 Campbell in its other two games. Sabin’s three-run homer was a bright spot against the Tar Heels.
Dan Fernandez contributed to the reporting of this article.
—Staff writer David R. De Remer can be reached at email@example.com
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