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In some strange way it was perfect.
The Crimson won a division it wasn’t supposed to win yesterday, and it won it with a smirk and a swagger.
After enduring two painful losses at Dartmouth on Saturday—losses highlighted by crass taunting from the Big Green student section—Harvard needed a sweep yesterday to advance to the Ivy League Championship Series.
So it swept. Even though Dartmouth had all the momentum. Even though Harvard didn’t have a No. 4 starter. Even with five freshman regulars. Even with five infield errors.
It didn’t matter. Even former Dartmouth star Brian Nickerson could not have stopped this Crimson team.
Beating Harvard is so hard because you don’t know where to start. In game three, the top of Harvard’s order went a combined 0-for-10, but behind a clutch pitching performance from senior Kenon Ronz, the Crimson won anyway. In game four, the first three Harvard hurlers allowed seven runs in 3.1 innings, but, behind a 19-hit attack, the Crimson won anyway.
That’s the way this team works. There has not been a singular hero this season, but there have been a plethora of heroic games and heroic moments.
On Sunday, there were three freshman—Lance Salsgiver, Josh Klimkiewicz and Zak Farkes—smacking home runs to help clinch their first division title.
There was junior centerfielder Bryan Hale continuing his long-awaited offensive emergence with half of the team’s RBI in game three.
There was fill-in first baseman Mike Dukovich, a freshman playing the position vacated by injured all-everything junior Trey Hendricks, stretching across the diamond in his trademark split to pick yet another throw from the dirt.
There was just what the Crimson needed. There was just enough.
When it was all over, Harvard had its two wins, and every last Harvard player had his redemption.
Sophomore shortstop Ian Wallace was heckled mercilessly by drunk Dartmouth frat boys after making a third-inning error in game one on Saturday, and when the games moved to O’Donnell Field on Sunday, a faint “WALL-ACE….WALL-ACE” could still be heard about once an inning.
But he simply shrugged it off and drove in the final Crimson run in a pivotal, 5-3 win in game three. Then Wallace rapped out three more hits in the division-clinching nightcap.
“It’s great because we get to send [those fans] back home on a two-hour ride to just cry to themselves,” Wallace said.
But much of the Harvard team had more than one day’s worth of reasons to dislike Dartmouth.
Brian Lentz was behind the plate in 2001, when the Crimson lost three of four to the Big Green to blow a one-game division lead and hand Dartmouth its second straight Red Rolfe title. Ronz started game one of that series and current captain and closer Barry Wahlberg relieved him.
They knew what it felt like to lose the divison on the last day of the season. It wasn’t going to happen again. Ronz—Harvard’s ace since Hendricks went down two weeks ago—was ruthless in game three, throwing all seven innings. In the final frame, the lefty struck out the side, twice on full counts.
His performance set up Wahlberg’s game four heroics.
With no proven fourth starter, Harvard quickly found itself in a 7-6, fourth-inning slugfest. So Harvard coach Joe Walsh called for his closer. He provided long relief.
Wahlberg threw 5.2 innings, and with the help of a lineup keyed by a 5-for-5 performance from Lentz, got the win.
Granted, it was an ugly win. The teams combined for 24 runs, 31 hits and nine pitchers.
There were goofs—booted balls, bad at bats and base-running blunders—but this team always seemed surprisingly calm.
Not 24 hours after two humiliating losses, it was confident, cocksure and proud. The players were grinning between innings, and matter-of-factly saying they were the better team after the game.
Baseball America may have picked Dartmouth to win the Red Rolfe, but the Crimson always assumed it belonged to them.
That’s why Harvard coach Joe Walsh could sleep well on Saturday night. He knew his team was angry and a little ashamed, but he knew they weren’t demoralized. He knew he had Ronz going, and he knew Wahlberg was rested.
After Saturday, the odds seemed stacked against them, but this team is a balls-to-the-wall, put-up-or-shutup kind of team.
So in some strange way, the situation was perfect.
In some strange way it was inevitable.
—Staff writer Lande A. Spottswood can be reached at email@example.com.
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