Each of the past two seasons, Princeton knocked Harvard softball out of the Ivy League Championship Series. The teams’ regular season matchups in those years predicted the Crimson’s struggles, as the Tigers went a combined 3-1 with a plus-13 run differential.
In 2018, however, Harvard (13-11, 6-3 Ivy) completely bucked that trend. The Crimson swept Princeton (4-18, 2-4) in a three-game series this weekend, winning each contest by a comfortable margin. Harvard rebounded strongly from a difficult Cornell series, outscoring the Tigers, 26-9.
“We were able to walk away with three wins, which was nice especially after last weekend, playing Cornell when we weren’t as successful wins and losses-wise,” junior pitcher Katie Duncan said. “I think being able to make significant in-game improvements from last week to this week was huge.”
HARVARD 9, PRINCETON 3
In the bottom of the fourth of the weekend’s final game, a bunt from freshman Alyssa Saldana drove in a run to tie the game, 3-3. Saldana’s fielder’s choice left runners on second and third for Duncan, who occupied the circle for the first four innings. Duncan took a hack at a 1-0 pitch up in the zone, sending it high in the air to center. There, Princeton's’ Megan Donahey ran out of real estate on the warning track and watched Duncan’s blast land on the other side of the wall.
Before this season, Duncan had never made a plate appearance for the Crimson. In two games at the plate in 2018, the pitcher and occasional first baseman has launched two home runs.
“She’s been wanting to be able to hit for the last couple years that she’s been here,” junior shortstop Rhianna Rich said. “The team is really loving how she’s going up there and taking the biggest swing that she can, and she’s clearly getting the job done. We could not be happier for her.”
Duncan was just one part of the homer brigade in the final game of the weekend. Rich and junior second baseman Meagan Lantz also cleared the wall—Lantz knocked a ball well over the left-field wall near the scoreboard, while Rich laced a line drive that sailed over the fence in right.
Junior right-hander Sarah Smith picked up where she left off on Saturday afternoon. Coming on in relief of Duncan to start the top of the fifth, Smith hurled three more scoreless innings and picked up her first save of the season and the fifth of her career. Smith’s spotless weekend lowered her ERA to 2.76.
HARVARD 6, PRINCETON 3
In the closest game of the weekend, it was Harvard’s defense that provided the clutch performances. The Crimson turned three inning-ending double plays that were paramount in killing the Tigers’ rallies and preserving Harvard’s early lead.
In the top of the sixth, Princeton put together its most intense scoring threat of the contest. The Tigers led off the inning with singles from Kaitlyn Waslawski and Megan Donahey, who then executed a double steal to advance to second and third with no outs. After a sacrifice fly and an RBI single, however, the Crimson managed to slam the door on Princeton’s rally with a 4-6-3 double play.
Harvard had left the field in similar fashion twice before—in the fifth, left fielder Alexa Altchek made a sliding catch moving to her right and doubled up Hannah Lutz at second base, and Rich spun a double play of her own in the top of the first to strand a runner at third.
Making her fourth start in the circle this season, Smith cruised through four dominant innings in which she allowed just one Tiger to reach base. Junior third baseman Erin Lockhart, Lantz, and Altchek each had two-hit games. Lockhart drove in two runs, and Rich scored three of Harvard’s six.
“Sarah did amazing,” Duncan said. “She really stepped up this weekend and was a dominant force in the circle…. She’s been really efficient getting it done, which is awesome.”
HARVARD 11, PRINCETON 3 (5 INNINGS)
Through two and a half innings of Saturday’s opener, Princeton appeared to be in the driver’s seat. Tigers pitcher Allie Reynolds eliminated a first-inning rally and set down the Crimson’s hitters in order in the second. Meanwhile, the Princeton offense had tacked on three runs in the top of the second on an infield single and a double to left field.
However, Harvard came alive in the home half of the third and never looked back. The Crimson hung eight runs on the scoreboard in the bottom of the third and added on three more in its next trip to the plate for good measure.
Harvard’s third-inning rally relied on a mix of big hits and small ball, and Rich exhibited a bit of both. The junior was hit by a pitch to lead off the frame and promptly stole second, later coming around to score on two throwing errors. When she got her second chance to bat in the inning, Rich roped a triple onto the warning track in center field to drive in two runs.
“Our coach kept telling us at the end of the weekend how great it was that each person in the lineup was able to come through and help contribute to the team’s success,” Rich said. “The dugout fed off of that momentum and it just kept rolling.”
Duncan took the circle in Saturday’s opener, tossing five full frames and striking out four Tigers. After allowing three runs in the top of the second, Duncan buckled down and limited Princeton to just a base hit and a hit-by-pitch in the three subsequent innings.
—Staff writer Jack Stockless can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.