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Harvard Claims First Ivy Series Win Against Princeton

Designated hitter Ben Rounds sizes up a pitch in a game against Brown last month. The senior leads the team in average, extra-base hits, and on-base percentage.
Designated hitter Ben Rounds sizes up a pitch in a game against Brown last month. The senior leads the team in average, extra-base hits, and on-base percentage. By Courtesy of Dylan Goodman/Harvard Athletics

With the Ivy League tournament only a few weeks away, the Harvard baseball team (8-20, 5-7 Ivy) traveled to New Jersey for a critical series against the Princeton Tigers (10-19, 6-6). With its sights set on its first Ivy League series win of the season, the team split the Saturday doubleheader and then blew out the Tigers in the decider, taking two of three on the weekend.

“We really needed a winning series going into that series against Princeton, a lot of good things needed to happen,” sophomore infielder Jordan Kang said. “We just did our part, hitters produced, all in all a great weekend series for us. Hopefully we can build off of that.”

After struggling mightily out of the gate in the preseason and then dropping its first three conference series to Columbia, Brown, and Cornell — all three of the series losses coming from rubber-match defeats after splitting the first two games — the Crimson looks like it is finally finding its groove. With a 10-3 win against the UMass Minutemen in the third-place game of the Baseball Beanpot last week, the series win against the Tigers, and a midweek barnstormer victory over Stonehill College on Tuesday, Harvard has won four of its last five.

While Harvard stills sits in the cellar of the Ancient Eight, with Brown (8-21, 3-9) the only team below it in the standings, it will have a chance make up ground with series against rivals Dartmouth (10-17, 5-7), Penn (14-18, 6-6), and Yale (12-17, 6-6) over the next three weekends. The top four teams in the conference will earn spots in the second annual conference tournament.

Key to the Crimson’s midseason revival have been the development of sophomore Callan Fang, the budding two-way star who has struck out double-digit batters in two of his last three outings, and the continued dominance of senior designated hitter Ben Rounds. The local Roxbury Latin product has 13 multi-hit games and sports an astounding .400/.500/.655 line 30 games into the season. The senior has steadily led the Crimson’s lineup through its early-season ups and downs.

“Playing relaxed ball, playing the game we’ve been playing, playing for one another,” said Kang, when asked how the Crimson can keep its streak of recent success going. “Something we’ve been buying in on is why not us and why not me. We obviously want to win, so we’ll keep doing our thing, and hopefully the results will follow.”

Harvard 3, Princeton 2

Both teams opened the first game of the Saturday doubleheader slowly, with neither team recording a hit in the first inning. Junior ace pitcher Sean Matson started off the day strong and struck out two batters in the bottom of the first. The Crimson’s bats got rolling in the second inning. Senior third baseman Jake Berger led off with a single to right field. Senior first baseman Chris Snopek then blasted a home run past the right field fence, plating Berger and putting Harvard up 2-0 early. Matson continued rolling in the bottom of the second inning, only allowing a single and striking out three more batters.

In the top of the third inning, Rounds struck out, but was able to reach first base due to a wild pitch. However, junior catcher William Lybrook hit a grounder to third base, which turned into a double play. Berger then hit a flyout to center field to give the Tigers a one-two-three inning. After getting two batters out to start the bottom half of the third, Matson allowed a double. With two outs, Princeton hit an RBI single to narrow the lead to 2-1. With one out in the top of the fourth inning, Kang singled through the left side. Junior outfielder and lead-off man Matt Giberti was beaned, advancing Kang to second base. During freshman shortstop Jack Rickheim’s at-bat, another wild pitch scored Kang and moved Giberti to third, extending the Crimson’s lead to 3-1. In the bottom of the fourth, Matson struck out the side again, all swinging, bringing his total to nine through four innings.

In the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings, both offenses struggled and only recorded three hits between them. Matson finished off his dominant start with three more strikeouts, finishing with a stat line of seven innings pitched, 12 strikeouts, and only one earned run. The junior bounced back from a rough start in his last outing against Cornell, trusting his fastball to generate swings and misses against the hapless Tigers lineup.

In the top of the eighth inning, Berger, Snopek, and Kang all grounded out. With Matson at a career-high 109 pitches, Joseph J. O’Donnell Head Head Coach Bill Decker decided to turn to the bullpen to finish his strong outing, with senior pitcher Uday Narottam relieving Matson.

In the bottom of the eighth, a fielding error by Rickheim and a walk gave the Tigers men on first and second with no outs, putting them in a prime position to mount a comeback. But Decker decided to change pitchers again, a savvy move for the moment. Junior Cole Cleary took the mound and struck out three straight batters to get Harvard out of the jam and preserve the 3-1 lead.

After a scoreless top half of the ninth, the Crimson needed three more outs to win in the series opener. Cleary gave up a home run to the leadoff batter, trimming Harvard’s lead to 3-2 and raising the specter of another late-game meltdown amid a season that has had several. Cleary then recorded a ground out and a strikeout. With two outs and a 1-2 count, Cleary threw a breaking ball called strike three to end the game and give the Crimson the series lead.

Harvard 4, Princeton 5

Harvard looked to carry its strong pitching and clutch hitting from game one into the second game of the doubleheader and started freshman pitcher Will Burns. With the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the first, Lybrook hit a single to plate Fang, who started in the lead-off spot at DH. The RBI knock moved junior outfielder George Cooper to third and Berger to second. Kang then popped out to second base to end the inning. In the bottom half of the inning, Burns allowed a leadoff double followed by a walk. He then gave up an RBI double, evening the score at 1-1. Burns settled in and recorded three straight outs to end the inning.

In the top of the second, sophomore center fielder Max Lane reached and advanced to second base on an error. Rickheim hit a flyout, advancing Lane to third. After a lineout from Fang, Lane scored on a wild pitch with two outs to put the Crimson up 2-1. Burns carried his momentum into the bottom of the second and recorded a one-two-three inning. In the bottom of the third, with two outs and a runner on first base, Burns gave up two consecutive singles, which plated a run for Princeton and tied the game at two. With two outs and runners on first and second, Burns allowed another single, but a baserunning error from the Tigers ended the inning.

In the top of the fourth, Kang led off with a single. Lane followed up with a single of his own, which also advanced Kang to third. Showing off his wheels, Lane stole second to give Harvard second and third base with zero outs and an opportunity to pounce. Rickheim then reached on a fielder’s choice, but Kang was caught in a rundown between third base and home plate. Eventually, Kang was tagged out, but not before Lane successfully advanced to third. Fang hit an RBI groundout, which gave the Crimson a 3-2 lead heading into the bottom of the fourth.

After walking the first two batters and allowing a sacrifice bunt, Burns was relieved by fellow rookie Truman Pauley. Facing runners on second and third with one out, Pauley forced a popout. However, two consecutive wild pitches scored both runners, giving Princeton a 4-3 lead. In the fifth and sixth innings, neither team found an opportunity to advance a runner past first base. In the seventh inning, both teams went one-two-three, with pitching continuing to dominate the series. In the top of the eighth, Berger, Lybrook, and Kang hit three consecutive singles, putting Harvard in a bases loaded, one out situation. Junior Sawyer Feller, pinch hitting for Lane, struck out. With two outs, Rickheim grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the inning and prevent the Crimson from taking the lead.

In the bottom of the eighth, Pauley struck out three straight batters. In the top of the ninth, Fang led off with a strikeout, followed by a groundout from Cooper. With their backs against the wall and down by a run, Harvard needed a spark. Rounds hit a massive home run, his fifth of the year, to center field on a 1-0 count to even up the score at 4-4. In the bottom of the ninth with two outs and a runner on second base, the Tigers doubled to center field and won the game 5-4. Despite 5.1 strong innings of work, Pauley was credited with the loss, his third of the season.

Harvard 14, Princeton 2

In the rubber match on Sunday, the Crimson looked to take its first Ivy League series win of the season. Fang transitioned from hitting to pitching duties in an effort to take down Princeton. In the bottom of the first, Fang struck out the side, working around two singles. In the top of the third inning, senior outfielder Peter Messervy led off with a walk. A sac bunt from Rickheim moved Messervy to second. With one out, Giberti singled up the middle to give the Crimson a 1-0 lead. Rounds then hit a double to right field, scoring Giberti and putting Harvard up 2-0.

The Crimson’s offense continued rolling in the fourth inning. Berger led off the party with a single to center field. After Lybrook walked, Kang hit a sac bunt, giving Harvard runners on second and third bases with only one out. Berger then scored on yet another wild pitch, which also advanced Lybrook to third and gave the Crimson a 3-0 lead. With one out, Messervy walked and subsequently swiped second base. Rickheim then found his big hit of the series via a double down the right field line, scoring both Lybrook and Messervy and extending the lead to 5-0. After Giberti grounded out, Cooper singled to center to plate Rickheim, which put Harvard up 6-0. Fang then continued his strong outing with a one-two-three fourth inning.

With all of the momentum heading into the fifth inning, the Crimson kept their heads down and kept the bats hot. To lead off the inning, Berger hit a long home run to right field and expanded the lead to 7-0. With two outs and runners on first and second, Giberti laid down a bunt single. However, a throwing error from the Tigers allowed Rickheim to score and cemented Harvard’s lead, now at 8-0. Fang retired three straight batters once again in the bottom of the fifth.

In the sixth inning, the Crimson’s bats continued to sizzle. After Rounds was hit by a pitch, Snopek singled to right and advanced Rounds to third. Berger then flew out to center, scoring Rounds on the sac fly and moving Snopek to second. With a 9-0 lead, Lybrook doubled down the right field line. Kang then walked, meaning that Harvard had the bases loaded with only one out. Messervy singled to left field, scoring Snopek and advancing Kang and Lybrook. Rickheim then grounded out, which plated Lybrook and moved Kang and Messervy. With a full count, Giberti drew a walk to load the bases again, this time with two outs and an 11-0 lead. Cooper was then hit by a pitch, and Rounds delivered another clutch RBI single, tacking on three more runs and leaving the score 14-0 heading into the bottom of the sixth inning.

Senior infielder Chris Snopek jogs off the field after recording a put-out. The four-year veteran leads the team with six home runs.
Senior infielder Chris Snopek jogs off the field after recording a put-out. The four-year veteran leads the team with six home runs. By Courtesy of Dylan Goodman/Harvard Athletics

Harvard’s bats quieted down after the sixth, but the offense outburst solidified an insurmountable lead, giving Fang the space to continuously fool Princeton’s batters. After seven innings and 88 pitches, Fang’s night ended with eight strikeouts, no walks, and no earned runs, a much-needed performance to keep the Crimson in the thick of the Ivy League race. Replacing Fang was junior pitcher Tanner Smith, who cruised through the eighth inning. In the ninth inning, he allowed two RBI singles, but Harvard still prevailed and took the game 14-2, along with the series.

With just four games separating Harvard from first-place Columbia (16-14, 9-3), and five teams sandwiched in between the two, the home stretch of the Ivy season will be dynamic. Harvard will look to continue rolling when it plays against Dartmouth this weekend, a series that marks the team’s annual furry-friendly extravaganza, Bark at the Park. The three-game set kicks off on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at Jordan Field. The game will be streamed on ESPN+.

—Staff writer Praveen Kumar can be reached at praveen.kumar@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Jack Silvers can be reached at jack.silvers@thecrimson.com.

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