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Softball Wins Championship Series, Advances to NCAA Regionals

No Doubter
Junior second baseman Meagan Lantz, pictured in previous action against Penn, hit a two-run home run during the wild seventh-inning comeback in game one.

The third time really is the charm.

After losing the Ivy League Championship Series in 2016 and 2017 against Princeton, maybe all Harvard softball needed was a change in scenery. The Crimson traveled to Hanover, N.H., where it bested Dartmouth in two games to advance to the NCAA Regionals. The Ivy League title is Harvard’s seventh all time, which is the second most in the Ancient Eight behind Princeton with 19.

Once it wrapped up its regular season with a series loss to Brown, the Crimson had to wait nearly two weeks before beginning the championship series. Rust was likely to come into play, and that it did for part of the opener. The Big Green appeared to be cruising to a 1-0 series lead on Saturday afternoon, but then the seventh inning happened. All at once, Harvard shook off its rust and hung five runs on the scoreboard—all of which scored with two outs—to come from behind and take its first lead of the game.

The Crimson hung on to win game one, 6-4, and coasted to a 4-1 victory in the second half of Saturday’s doubleheader. After another brief respite, Harvard will play seven-seed Georgia on its home turf in Athens, Ga., on Friday afternoon.

“To be able to travel somewhere else that we most likely haven’t played at is just really huge,” junior shortstop Rhianna Rich said. “And being able to compete against teams that are really good and have a chance to go to the World Series, it’s honestly great and I think it’s going to be a great experience for all of us. Being able to extend our season with the seniors is also a really great thing to come from this.”

HARVARD 4, DARTMOUTH 1

The second game of Saturday’s doubleheader was much less pressure-packed than the first. Junior right-hander Sarah Smith went the distance in the circle, allowing just five hits and one run while punching out four. She was twirling a shutout through the first six innings, and ultimately Dartmouth could not replicate Harvard’s success in its last ups, only pushing across one run.

“Dartmouth has a great offense, and for her to completely shut them down, it made it a lot easier on the offense to just be able to come out and produce runs without having that pressure,” Rich said.

The situation in the bottom of the seventh was not as devoid of pressure as the rest of the game had been, however. After inducing two groundouts to start the inning, Smith hit consecutive batters and allowed a single to make it a 4-1 ballgame with runners on the corners.

Center fielder Tiffany Dyson strode to the plate representing the tying run. Smith got her in an 0-2 hole quickly and delivered a pitch on the outer half of the plate. Dyson popped it up, and junior second baseman Meagan Lantz camped under it to put the finishing touch on the Crimson’s championship series victory. After securing the catch, Lantz spiked the ball on the infield, and Harvard’s entire team spilled out of the dugout and congregated near the mound, celebrating its title and the continuation of its season.

“It was just disbelief that we had actually done it,” Rich said. “Honestly it took me a while for it to settle in that we actually did it, but everyone was just screaming. It was a lot of tears and happiness. All of us came together, and it was a lot of joy.”

The Crimson jumped out to a 2-0 lead by the end of the first inning and never looked back. Rich and co-captain Maddy Kaplan led off with a pair of singles to set up a runners on the corners situation. After a groundout pushed Kaplan up to second, junior third baseman Erin Lockhart laced a single to left center to score both runners.

Harvard added to its lead with a run in each of the third and fourth innings. In the third, Lockhart drove in another run with a single to shortstop, and in the next frame a Lindey Kneib double and and Elizabeth Shively single produced the Crimson’s fourth and final tally.

HARVARD 6, DARTMOUTH 4

Close calls and a wild seventh-inning comeback defined Harvard’s victory in the opener. Despite protest from the home crowd, the Crimson found itself on the right side of three borderline calls, at least two of which appeared to be the right decisions upon further review. Both of these occurred in the hectic top of the seventh.

The first could have been the final out of the game and would have given the Big Green a 4-3 win. After Lantz launched a two-run homer over the center field fence to bring the score within one, Lockhart ripped a line drive single up the middle. This brought sophomore first baseman Olivia Giaquinto to the plate, and she bounced a ball to short. Dartmouth shortstop Calista Almer threw on to first, but the toss was high and just barely pulled Tatyanah Castillo off the bag. Giaquinto was safe, and the inning would continue.

Coach Jenny Allard replaced Giaquinto with the speedy Dallas Hogan, and Shively dug in to the batter’s box. Shively worked the count full before flicking an outside pitch down the right field line, narrowly landing it in fair territory. The relay home was on target and appeared to beat the runner to the plate, but Hogan slid in under the tag with the go-ahead run. In all, Harvard plated five runs on four hits to keep its hopes alive.

“After [Lantz’s home run] it was just about each girl getting on base and doing what they could to keep extending the inning,” Rich said. “I think all of us just knew in our hearts that it was something that we could accomplish, given all that we have done this season. We have a really good history of bringing our best stuff against Dartmouth, and we definitely brought our best stuff and we saved it for the last inning to make it exciting.”

In the fourth inning, a close call went the Crimson’s way when it possibly should not have. Big Green hurler Breanna Ethridge left a pitch up and in, and it was called a hit by pitch. However, it appeared to strike the knob of Lockhart’s bat instead of her hand. Lockhart took advantage of the situation, as she stole second and came around to score Harvard’s first run of the game on a Shively single.

Ethridge was dominant throughout her start, but especially in the early going. In the first three frames, the senior allowed just two baserunners, none of whom reached on a hit, while striking out four.

Harvard’s pitching kept the team in the game from the first pitch to the last. Junior southpaw Katie Duncan went six strong innings before turning the ball over to Smith, who struck out two batters in the bottom of the seventh to record the save.

Lantz, Shively, and Kneib all had multi-hit games, and they drove in all six of the Crimson’s runs.

—Staff writer Jack Stockless can be reached at jack.stockless@thecrimson.com.

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