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Harvard baseball (17-21, 13-5) clinched a spot in the four-team 2023 Ivy League Baseball Tournament with a dominating sweep of Columbia University (23-17, 11-7) in front of a home crowd last weekend.
The Crimson put on a strong offensive and defensive display during the three-game set to secure its fifth series win in Ivy League conference play and jump to first place in the standings, where Harvard is now tied with the University of Pennsylvania (25-14, 13-5).
The sweep of Columbia cements a remarkable comeback for the Crimson this season. Harvard struggled to win earlier this spring, with the team suffering through a 12-game losing streak for the first half of March. The Crimson, however, started to turn things around once Ivy League commenced, securing its first series victory of the season against Pennsylvania.
The Crimson outscored the Columbia Lions 23-9 over the weekend. After winning both games of a Friday doubleheader, Harvard’s offense dominated in a 13-run performance on Saturday to secure the series sweep. Harvard’s bullpen was also stellar against Columbia, with Crimson relievers limiting the Lions to just one run over the three games.
Head Coach Bill Decker said in an interview Wednesday that winning both games of the doubleheader put the team “in a good spot to have a great weekend.”
“I thought we pitched it really well all weekend. We played good defense. We got some timely hitting,” he said. “I was happy for the kids. I thought the players really prepared themselves well.”
“Now they put themselves in a position where they can do something special for this group,” Decker added.
HARVARD 5, COLUMBIA 2
Junior right-hander Chris Clark took the mound for the Crimson in the first game of the Friday doubleheader.
Clark got off to a strong start by retiring the Lions in order in the top of the first inning, recording two strikeouts. Clark continued to dominate in the second inning, inducing two quick outs before the Lions recorded their first hit of the game with a single to center field. The runner, however, was quickly erased by senior catcher Zach Brown, who ended the inning by firing a bullet to catch him attempting to steal second base.
Junior center fielder Peter Messervy recorded the first hit of the afternoon for the Crimson with a leadoff double to start the second inning. Senior second baseman Hunter Baldwin followed by hitting an 0-2 pitch to left field for a single, putting runners at the corners with no outs. After Brown struck out swinging for the first out of the inning, freshman shortstop Gio Colasante hit a sacrifice fly to score Messervy and put the Crimson out in front. Sophomore left fielder George Cooper and junior right fielder Ben Rounds hit back-to-back two-out singles to score Baldwin and increase Harvard’s lead to 2-0.
Clark continued to dominate in the third and fourth innings, retiring all six batters he faced in order. Clark nearly recorded an immaculate inning in the fourth, needing just 10 pitches to strike out the side.
The Crimson extended its lead in the bottom of the fourth inning. With two outs and a runner on first base, Cooper smashed the second pitch he saw to left field for a two-run home run, giving Harvard a 4-0 advantage over Columbia.
The Lions’ offense finally managed to make some noise against Clark in the top of the fifth inning, hitting back-to-back doubles off the right-hander to score Columbia’s first run of the game. With two outs and runners at the corners, Clark looked set to escape the fifth inning without any further damage, but a throwing error by Colasante allowed the Lions to score their second run of the inning and slice the Crimson’s lead in half.
Clark, however, got the next batter he faced to end the inning with a ground out, stranding two Columbia runners in scoring position.
The Lions threatened again in the sixth inning. After Clark recorded the first two outs of the inning, he gave up a single and a double in quick succession as Columbia got the game’s tying runs in scoring position. But Clark recovered to strike out the next batter on four pitches to end the inning. Clark’s dominant pitching performance earned him the win, ending with a final line of 6.0 IP, 1 ER, 10 SO.
In the bottom of the eighth, Harvard’s offense added an insurance run when Brown hit an RBI single to center field to increase the Crimson’s lead to 5-2.
Meanwhile, the Crimson’s bullpen put on a near-perfect performance to keep the Lions off the scoreboard for the rest of the game. Freshman right-hander Callan Fang pitched the eighth and ninth innings, recording three strikeouts over two innings of work to earn the save and seal Harvard’s game one victory.
HARVARD 5, COLUMBIA 4
While the Crimson took the lead early and never relinquished it in the first game of the Friday doubleheader, Harvard’s victory in game two did not come as easy. The lead changed hands five times before the final out was recorded.
The Crimson’s offense wasted no time getting started in game two as Cooper led off the game with a double to left field, immediately putting a runner in scoring position for Harvard. Senior first baseman Logan Bravo, who went 0-3 in the first game of the doubleheader, hit a one-out RBI single to left field to drive in Cooper and give Harvard an early 1-0 lead.
Harvard’s starting pitcher, senior right-hander Will Jacobsen, cruised through the first two innings, needing just 16 pitches to record six outs. The third inning, however, proved more challenging. After giving up a single to the first batter of the inning, Jacobsen retired the next two Columbia Lions batters he faced. The next batter worked a full count against Jacobsen before smashing a two-run home run to put the Lions on top 2-1.
Columbia would not hold onto the lead for long as the Crimson’s offense responded in the bottom half of the inning. Bravo got things started with a single for his second hit of the game and junior third baseman Jake Berger drew a walk to put runners on first and second base with one out. The next batter, junior left fielder Chris Snopek, lined an RBI single to tie the game and put runners at the corners. Messervy then hit an RBI sacrifice fly to score Berger and give Harvard a 3-2 lead.
Jacobsen kept the Lions off the scoreboard for the rest of his outing, putting up zeros in the box score during the fourth and fifth innings. He finished his outing with a final line of 5.0 IP, 2 ER, 4 SO, with Decker turning to his bullpen for the final four innings of the game.
Senior left-hander Tim Williamson came in for the Crimson to pitch the sixth inning. He induced two ground ball outs before hitting the third batter he faced to put a runner on base for the Lions. The next Columbia batter smashed a two-run home run on the first pitch he saw to reclaim the lead for the Lions 4-3. Williamson struck out the next batter he faced, but the damage was done with Harvard trailing Columbia heading into the bottom of the sixth.
After getting retired in order in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Crimson went to bat in the seventh inning seeking to retake the lead. With one out, a hit-by-pitch brought Rounds to the plate with the tying runner on first base. Rounds smacked an RBI double down the left field line to tie the game for the Crimson, and later advanced to third on the throw home. The next batter, Bravo, gave Harvard the lead with an RBI sacrifice fly to score Rounds and give the Crimson a 5-4 lead heading into the eighth inning.
Only needing to record six outs to secure the win, Harvard’s bullpen was lights out. Decker turned to senior southpaw Harrison Stovern to pitch the ninth inning. Stovern did not let the Lions hit the ball out of the infield, striking out the first batter he faced before inducing two ground outs to earn the save.
The win secured the Crimson’s fifth series victory in Ivy League conference play and gave Harvard a chance for its second series sweep of the season.
HARVARD 13, COLUMBIA 3
With junior right-hander Jay Driver on the mound, Harvard looked to secure the sweep and an Ivy League tournament berth in front of more than 200 Crimson faithful.
Driver started the game strong, retiring the first six Columbia batters he faced. The Lions’ fielders — more so than the Crimson’s hitters — provided Driver with some early run support in the bottom of the second inning.
After Berger drew a walk to lead off the inning, Messervy singled to right field to put two runners on base for the Crimson with just one out. The next batter, Baldwin, hit a routine ground ball that turned into a run for the Crimson after a throwing error by Columbia’s first baseman allowed Berger to score. After a single and a strikeout left the bases loaded with two outs, the Lions looked set to escape the inning without further damage. Another error, however, extended the inning and allowed the Crimson to score its second unearned run of the game.
The Lions’ first baseman managed to redeem himself in the top of the third inning, hitting a two-out RBI double off Driver to give the Lions their first run of the game and cut the Crimson’s lead to 2-1. Bravo responded just as quickly on behalf of the Crimson, leading off the bottom half of the frame with a solo home run to left field to give Harvard a 3-1 advantage.
Driver struggled again in the top of the fourth to record the final out of the inning. With two outs and a runner on first, Driver gave up a hard-hit double to put runners on second and third. The next Columbia batter singled to right field, driving in both runs and tying the game at 3-3.
Harvard, however, reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the frame with some more help from Columbia’s fielding mishaps. Cooper dug into the batter’s box with one out and runners on first and second base, and singled to center field on the second pitch of the at-bat. But instead of loading the bases, the Crimson’s lead runner rounded third and scored the go-ahead run on an error by the Lions’ center fielder.
With Harvard seeking to extend its lead, Rounds drew a nine-pitch walk to load the bases and knock Columbia’s starter out of the game. The next batter, Bravo, gave the Lions’ bullpen a rude welcome, smacking the first pitch he saw down the left field line for a bases clearing double. The Crimson would score two more runs in the inning on a wild pitch and an RBI single to take a 9-3 lead over the Lions into the fifth inning.
Driver would not give up a hit for the rest of his outing, keeping Columbia’s bats silent over the next three innings. Driver finished his strong outing with a line of 7.0 IP, 3 ER, and 5 SO. Sophomore right-hander Sean Matson pitched the final two innings of the game for the Crimson, recording three strikeouts and giving up just one hit as he sealed Harvard 13-3 win and their series sweep.
Harvard’s players have this weekend off as they transition back into students to finish all their final exams and assignments, but the Crimson will host Yale University for a three game series starting on May 13.
Despite already punching their ticket to the Ivy League tournament, the series against the Bulldogs promises to be competitive as the Crimson seeks to acquire the top seed, and perhaps more importantly, earn the right to host the tournament at home in Cambridge.
Coach Decker said that making it into the Ivy League tournament was “the first of a goal.”
“Gotta get in the tournament and then you want to get out of it,” he said.
“We’ve got a huge series with Yale,” Decker added. “We just want to continue to play well and see where the seeding comes out.”
— Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @mherszenhorn.
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