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No. 8 Wildcats Pummel Harvard in NCAA Opener

By Scott A. Sherman, Crimson Staff Writer

Playing in the NCAA tournament for the first time in their careers, the members of the Harvard softball team certainly learned one thing Friday night—they weren’t in the Ivy League anymore.

In its opening game of the Tuscon regional, the Crimson—making its fourth-ever tournament appearance and first since 2007—was demolished by No. 8 Arizona at Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium, falling 10-0 after the mercy rule was called in the sixth inning.

Junior starter Rachel Brown—who dominated the Ancient Eight during the regular season en route to winning the Ivy League Pitcher of the Year award—was rocked early and often. The 10 runs she allowed were more than she had given up in her previous six starts combined.

In the meantime, the Harvard offense stagnated.

The Crimson had a great chance to take an early lead against Wildcats starter Kenzie Fowler. In the top of the first inning, co-captain Ellen Macadam walked leading off, sophomore Stephanie Regan reached on an error by the shortstop, and freshman Kasey Lange singled to left to load the bases with nobody out. But consecutive strikeouts by junior Whitney Shaw and freshman Allison Scott and a groundout by sophomore Ashley Heritage killed the Harvard rally.

“We just didn’t have those clutch hits when we needed them,” Shaw said. “We weren’t really able to string things together and things didn’t really fall into place offensively.”

In the bottom of the inning, Arizona jumped on Brown.

With one out, Lauren Schutzler and Brigette Del Ponte singled and advanced to second and third on a passed ball. Schutzler scored on a groundout to first, and after a walk put runners at the corners with two outs, Wildcats’ second baseman Kristen Arriola ripped a double down the leftfield line to plate two more. Karissa Buchanan followed with a single up the middle before Brown was finally able to escape the jam, holding the Arizona lead to 4-0 after one.

Both teams went down 1-2-3 in the second, with Brown striking out two in the bottom of the frame. In the third, Harvard was unable to muster any offense again, while Arizona plated another run on a double by Lini Koria.

In the fourth inning, the Crimson threatened by putting runners on first and second, but Fowler got freshman Shelbi Olson to fly out to left to keep Harvard off the board.

“The pitching was very good, but I don’t think that’s at all an excuse,” Shaw said. “I think we definitely should’ve hit better, myself included.”

Brown held the Wildcats in check in the bottom of the fourth, but the Crimson was able to record only a Regan single in the top of the fifth. Arizona shortstop Stacie Chambers then led off the bottom of the inning with a homer to right, putting the Wildcats up 6-0.

In the sixth, Harvard was again held scoreless despite a leadoff walk. In the home half of the inning, Arizona went back to work with back-to-back doubles by Brittany Lastrapes and Schutzler. After a fielder's choice and an intentional walk loaded the bases, Chambers ended the game with a grand slam down the left field line, putting the mercy rule into effect and handing the Crimson its first shut-out loss of its season.

“When I made a mistake in the Ivy League, I could get away with it,” Brown said. “Whereas against these teams, they capitalized on [my mistakes].”

It was a career-worst start for the junior, who only struck out four after finishing the regular season third in the country with 11.5 punchouts per contest.

“I think when you start playing teams that are ranked in the top 10, every batter is that much better,” she said. “They’re that much faster, their hands are that much faster to the ball, everything they do is just a little bit better than what I’ve been used to seeing. And that’s not a knock on the Ivy League; the Ivy League has some great competition. But these are some of the best players in the nation.”

Both Brown and Shaw agreed that it was certainly eye-opening to play a squad with a history like that of the Wildcats, who have won eight national championships.

“Playing an Ivy League team versus playing a nationally-ranked team is definitely different,” Shaw said. “We went from being the big fish in a little pond to being a little fish in a big pond. [Arizona was] more comfortable playing in that bigger pond.”

—Staff writer Scott A. Sherman be reached at ssherman13@college.harvard.edu.

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