More than a week ago, long before Harvard dumped Brown from the Red Rolfe divisional race and assured itself a one-game edge against second-place Dartmouth, Crimson captain Morgan Brown felt free to speculate on the inevitability of now.
“It always comes down to the last weekend,” he said then, before Harvard played the Bears, Boston College, or Rhode Island this week. “Given past history, what do you really expect?”
Expect this: once again the Red Rolfe title, and a berth in the Ivy League Championship Series (ICS), will come down to a split home-and-home doubleheader between two bitter archrivals.
Tomorrow, the Crimson (18-16-1, 12-4 Ivy) will host Dartmouth (17-16, 11-5) at 1 p.m. on O’Donnell Field. On Sunday, the Big Green will return the favor with a two-game homestand against Harvard at Dartmouth.
With a one-game edge on the Big Green, the Crimson would need only a split to maintain its lead. Dartmouth would need wins in three of four to overtake Harvard.
Meanwhile Yale (25-16, 10-6), winner of five of its last seven games, must sweep Brown (12-21, 9-7) today and tomorrow to force a tie against the Crimson (given the split) or Dartmouth (given the three Big Green wins).
Harvard is well aware of the playoff scenarios.
“We’re definitely not looking at going two and four,” Brown said. “That would take the control out of our hands [if Yale sweeps]. We’re looking at winning the first three games.”
Said sophomore Shawn Haviland (3-5, 4.06 ERA), who will start Game 1 tomorrow, “If we have a lead late in Game 2 after a win in Game 1, we might bring in [projected Game 3 starter Javy Castellanos] to close. We want to win.”
In keeping with its regular weekend rotation, Dartmouth will likely start with sophomore Russell Young (3-2, 3.96) tomorrow in Game 1 and go with senior staff ace Josh Faiola (5-2, 1.90) in the nightcap.
It will be the first appearance for Faiola, a former co-MVP of the prestigious Cape Cod League, since going 12 innings in an epic 2-1 loss to Yale on April 22. In that start, he threw 145 pitches.
Haviland said the Crimson won’t expect Faiola to show signs of wear.
“Sometimes you throw 145 and have no stress,” he said, “and sometimes you throw 65 with all kinds of stress—you’re rearing back. So it’s different.”
“But,” he added, “to throw that in a losing effort is impressive. He’ll be a great matchup for Cole.”
Adam Cole (2-2, 4.09), the Harvard freshman, will take the mound in Game 2. On Sunday at Dartmouth, Harvard will likely start Castellanos (4-3, 5.45) in Game 3. Beyond that, Harvard coach Joe Walsh could go with a combination of his most experienced arms—including seniors Matt Brunnig and Lance Salsgiver, and possibly even Haviland in relief—in Game 4, depending on the stakes.
Two years ago, Walsh saved ace Trey Hendricks for a relief appearance in Game 2 at Dartmouth and got burned when Hendricks lost. The next day, Hendricks threw a complete-game shutout against the Big Green.
Dartmouth eventually won Game 4 and the division title, but Walsh has made no secret of his willingness to use his best pitchers in unusual situations.
“Every single weekend—and Coach Walsh will tell you the same thing,” Haviland said. “I try to beg my way into the games on Sunday. My arm never gets sore. If I’m on the hill [in relief in Game 4], there’s nowhere I’d rather be.”
In Dartmouth, Haviland and the Harvard staff will battle against an unusual offense in that the Big Green features a young, talented group of high-average hitters with relatively little power.
The Crimson, for example, has out-hit Dartmouth 319-312, yet the Big Green has logged 251 single-base hits to Harvard’s 227. Furthermore, Dartmouth has hit only seven home runs to this point, just one more than injured Crimson first baseman Josh Klimkiewicz.
“It’s nice to know you can maybe make a mistake and not get it blown out of the ballpark,” Haviland said.
“But,” he added, “Dartmouth can get guys on, they can hit and run, they can bunt. Sometimes those teams are tougher—they’ll make you make mistakes, and they won’t make mistakes.”
The Crimson, on the other hand, has had one of the league’s best slugging offenses but has struggled with injuries.
Brown, who will be back in the field after missing a start against Rhode Island this week with a strained hamstring, said doctors gave Klimkiewicz the go-ahead to play this weekend for the first time since injuring his elbow on April 22.
“He’s a senior,” Brown said. “There’s no way he wants to miss this weekend. If there’s any way he can play, he will.”
The significance of the season’s final weekend, after all, has not been lost on Harvard.
“We’re in a great spot right now,” Haviland said. “We control our own destiny.”
—Staff writer Alex McPhillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.