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Baseball Drops First Home Series to Brown

Then-junior Chris Snopek holds his swing in a game vs. Princeton last season. Snopek drove in seven runs in the weekend series against Brown.
Then-junior Chris Snopek holds his swing in a game vs. Princeton last season. Snopek drove in seven runs in the weekend series against Brown. By Cory K. Gorczycki

After dropping its Ivy League opener on the road at Columbia, the Harvard baseball team (4-16, 2-4 Ivy) returned to Massachusetts to face off against Brown (7-14, 2-4 Ivy) in the Crimson’s home opener last weekend. The team’s doubleheader on Saturday was moved to Boston College’s Eddie Pellagrini Diamond, where it took one-of-two, due to improper field conditions at O’Donnell Field in Cambridge. The Crimson returned to O’Donnell on Sunday for its official home opener and lost the rubber match to drop the series.

“The emotions were there. It was the rubber match. The boys were really fired up. A lot of energy,” junior outfielder George Cooper said, describing the atmosphere of the Crimson’s first home game. Now that Ivy season is well underway, the Crimson will have to work its way back into contention, with Columbia (10-12, 5-1 Ivy) leading the pack and five conference series left to play.

Harvard 2, Brown 4

In the first game of the Saturday doubleheader, Harvard sent out junior ace pitcher Sean Matson, who opened the game by recording two strikeouts and a flyout in the top of the first inning. With two outs in the bottom of the first, senior outfielder Ben Rounds tripled to right center field. The Crimson was unable to capitalize, though, with team captain and third baseman Jake Berger grounding out to end the inning.

Matson continued to deal in the top of the second inning, adding two more strikeouts to cap off another one-two-three inning. In the bottom frame, junior catcher Sawyer Feller was hit by a pitch, but was the only Harvard player to reach base. After allowing a leadoff triple in the top of the third inning, Matson remained calm and recorded the first out via a foul out. He then continued his strong start by striking out two more batters to end the Bears’ opportunity. In the bottom of the third, freshman shortstop Jack Rickheim walked and junior outfielder Matt Giberti moved him to second base with a bunt single. Junior infielder George Cooper then grounded out to third base, but Rickheim and Giberti successfully advanced. With two outs and runners on second and third, the Crimson had a prime opportunity to strike first. However, Berger grounded out to the pitcher to end the inning.

In the top of the fourth inning, Brown’s bats came alive. After a single and an error to lead off the inning, the Bears kicked off the scoring with an RBI double, putting them up 1-0. Matson retired the next batter via a lineout, but allowed another walk to load the bases with only one out. Brown capitalized on the opportunity with runners in scoring position by hitting an RBI single and a sacrifice fly, giving the Bears a commanding 3-0 lead entering the bottom of the fourth. In the bottom half of the inning, despite singles from sophomore Callan Fang and senior Peter Messervy, Harvard was unable to punch in a runner, continuing the team’s offensive struggles.

In the fifth inning, both pitchers settled into their rhythms and dealed one-two-three innings. Entering the sixth inning, junior pitcher Cole Cleary relieved Matson. After allowing a leadoff single, Cleary recorded three consecutive outs. Moving to the bottom of the sixth, the Crimson needed an offensive spark. Berger led off the inning with a double down the right field line. Then, senior first baseman Chris Snopek hit a massive home run to center field, which cut down Brown’s lead to 3-2. Despite two more hitters reaching base, the Bears struck out Giberti with two outs to escape the inning with their lead intact.

In the top of the seventh, Cleary allowed another leadoff single, but subsequently struck out a batter and forced two more outs to end the inning. Harvard’s trouble with runners on base continued in the bottom of the eighth. With Berger on first base and two outs, Snopek flew out to right field to end the inning. In the top of the eighth, Cleary gave up a single to start the inning. An error by Rickheim followed by a fielder’s choice gave Brown runners on first and third with only one out. Cleary gave up his first run of the game via a sacrifice fly, extending the Bears’ lead to 4-2. He then popped up the last batter to end the inning.

In the bottom of the eighth, Fang led off the inning with a walk. Feller then grounded into a double play and Messervy grounded out to first base to end the inning. In the last inning, senior pitcher Uday Narottam relieved Cleary. With one out in the inning, he allowed two consecutive walks. He then settled in and picked off one runner and struck out another to end the inning. In its last opportunity to win the game, the Crimson once again went one-two-three, giving Brown the opening win of the series 4-2.

Harvard 7, Brown 5

Later in the day, Harvard attempted to rebound by trotting out Fang to the mound, hoping that the two-way player and former Ivy League Rookie of the Year could shift the momentum of the series. To start off the second game of the doubleheader, Fang forced three straight groundouts in the top of the first inning. In the bottom half of the inning and the top half of the second inning, both pitchers didn’t allow a hit. The Crimson’s bats found success in the bottom of the second inning. With one out, junior utilityman William Lybrook singled to third base. Feller then hit a home run, putting Harvard up 2-0.

In the top of the third, Fang allowed a single and a double with no outs, putting the Crimson in a jam. Fang struck out two-straight batters to come close to escaping unscathed, but with two outs and runners on second and third, Fang gave up an RBI single, narrowing Harvard’s lead to 2-1. In the bottom of the third, Snopek hit a single with two outs, but Lybrook grounded out to the pitcher to end the inning. Fang continued to build his momentum in the top of the fourth, adding on two more strikeouts and another one-two-three inning. With one out in the bottom of the fourth, freshman shortstop Tyler Shulman walked. Sophomore infielder Jordan Kang tripled to right center field, plating Shulman and giving the Crimson a 3-1 advantage.

In the fifth inning, Fang allowed a single with one out, but struck out two more batters swinging, bringing his strikeout total on the day to nine. With two outs in the bottom half of the inning, Snopek singled to left field and then stole second. Lybrook stayed patient in his at-bat and delivered an RBI single on a full count to extend Harvard’s lead, 4-1. In the top of the sixth with two outs, Fang allowed a triple to center field, followed by an RBI single, narrowing the Crimson’s lead to 4-2.

In the bottom of the sixth, Harvard’s bats continued to shine. Shulman led off the inning with a single to right field. Kang then reached on a fielder’s choice, with Shulman being tagged out at second base. After Giberti struck out, Cooper bunted and advanced all the way to third base after a throwing error by Brown. Kang scored on the wild play and the Crimson took a commanding 5-2 lead. Rounds put the exclamation point on the inning with a home run to left field, extending Harvard’s lead to 7-2. Fang delivered another strong inning of work in the seventh, facing and retiring three batters to end his impressive start, which featured a career-high 12 K’s. The sophomore put on a show from the mound on Saturday, which would be followed by a sterling game Sunday at the plate as the designated hitter.

“We really don’t know where his ceiling is, because he hasn’t gotten a ton of hitting appearances,” Cooper said of Fang’s weekend performance, which earned him Ivy League Pitcher of the Week yesterday. “It’s pretty awesome.”

In the eighth inning, junior pitcher Tanner Smith relieved Fang. Smith allowed two singles and a walk to start off the inning, which put the Bears, with bases loaded and no outs, in an excellent position for a rally. Smith allowed another walk and a sacrifice fly, narrowing the Crimson’s lead to 7-4. After allowing another sacrifice fly to cut the lead to 7-5, Smith ended the inning by forcing a groundout to shortstop. In the bottom of the eighth, spoiling singles from Cooper and Rounds, three Harvard batters struck out.

In the top of the ninth, with a chance to earn the Crimson its second Ivy League win of the season, Smith forced a flyout to start off the inning. After allowing a walk, Smith forced a groundout and struck out the last batter, ending Brown’s attempt at a comeback and evening up the series at one game a piece. The electric duo of Fang and Rounds — who now has a home run in each of the Crimson’s past three series — gave Harvard hope that its first series win of the season was in its sights.

The Crimson lines up for the national anthem ahead of last year's Baseball Beanpot final against Boston College. This year's Beanpot kicks off on Tuesday afternoon in Cambridge.
The Crimson lines up for the national anthem ahead of last year's Baseball Beanpot final against Boston College. This year's Beanpot kicks off on Tuesday afternoon in Cambridge. By Courtesy of Philip Tor/Harvard Athletics

Harvard 12, Brown 20

But by the top of the third inning of the series decider, a Harvard victory looked like a distant dream. For the second straight weekend, the Crimson put pitcher Truman Pauley in a position to anchor a series victory but the freshman couldn’t deliver. While the Pacific Palisades, Calif. native allowed the Columbia Lions to wear him down gradually in the early innings last weekend, this time the Bears did most of their damage in one fell swoop.

The Bears jumped out to an early lead in the top of the first, bringing a run around with a clutch two-out RBI single from Reece Rappoli. Pauley limited the damage by striking out Nathan Brasher with the bases loaded, but the Bears were right back at it in the bottom of the second, capitalizing on sloppy fielding from the Crimson. First, Pauley threw the ball away on a pick-off attempt at first, bringing a Bears run in to make their lead 2-0. Then, Kang had a bouncing ball up the middle bounce off his glove, delaying his throw to first and putting another runner aboard. After a strikeout, Pauley allowed a line-drive double to Brown’s Gunner Boree, increasing the deficit to 3-0 for the Crimson.

As in his previous start, Pauley struggled to consistently find the strike zone, issuing six free passes, the last of which got him the hook from Joseph J. O’Donnell ՚67 Head Coach Bill Decker in the top of the third. Sophomore reliever Brian Dowling came in, and the southpaw struggled to contain the Bears, allowing a fielder’s choice, single, double, triple, and another bunt single to his first five batters. By the time the first out of the inning was recorded, Harvard was down 9-0. But the damage wasn’t done: Brown took advantage of a hit-by-pitch and two more free passes to continue the rally. Outfielder Mika Peterson hit his second RBI single of the inning, and just like that the Bears led 12-0.

At that point, the Crimson looked feckless, facing an insurmountable deficit and having only conjured up a lead-off single from Giberti over two innings against Bears’ starter Santhosh Gottam. But this is where the Crimson’s spirit emerged, in Cooper’s eyes.

“We go down pretty huge, pretty early, and we didn’t have a single run,” the junior said. “But you just kind of bring it to the head, you know, ‘How bad do you guys want this?’ We’re down a lot. So this is kind of an opportunity to go ballistic. And the offense really clicked.”

Ballistic is the right word for it. In the bottom of the third, the Crimson halved Brown’s lead by putting up a six-spot, highlighted by a bases-clearing double from Snopek that scored Berger, Rounds, and Cooper and a two-run home run from Fang. Snopek took a pitch on a 2-0 count and sent it soaring the other way toward the right field wall, where it kept carrying all the way to the 364-foot sign and bounced off the wall. On the very next pitch from Gottam, Fang got a pitch over the heart of the plate and smashed it over the right field wall, sending the ball streaking toward Harvard Stadium.

Harvard seemed to be craving the comeback that Cooper was praying for, and freshman reliever Will Burns provided the Crimson with some breathing room to continue chipping away. The righty rotated in for Dowling at the top of the fourth and mostly shut down Brown for four innings, while the Crimson continued to narrow the lead with a rally in the bottom of the fifth, led by the usual suspects. Berger scored Rounds with an RBI double, Snopek hit a sacrifice fly, and it looked like the Crimson could tack on even more with one out, a runner on third, and Fang at-bat. But on a 1-2 count, Fang lined the ball right into the outstretched glove of Gottam, who fired to third to double up Berger for the inning-ending double play.

Brown managed to tack on another run in the sixth off Burns, but the Crimson’s comeback effort was still alive and well by the bottom of the seventh, when Brown Head Coach Grant Achilles put in reliever Stiles Begnaud. The Crimson mounted a classic small-ball rally, leading off with singles from Cooper and Rounds and then moving them over on a wild pitch. Lybrook walked to load the bases, bringing up Berger in another big spot. The captain took a half-swing on a pitch up and in from Begnaud, sending a dribbler toward the mound that looked to be the beginning of an easy force-out at the plate. But when Begnaud went down to field the ball, the ball went under his glove, and everyone was safe. Snopek followed with a sacrifice fly, narrowing the deficit to 13-10 and chasing Begnaud from the game.

With reliever Jacob Young in to replace Begnaud, Fang came up with two runners on, representing the tying run. Young clearly knew it, giving Fang nothing to hit and walking him on four pitches. After a strikeout from Shulman, Kang worked Young to a full count. On the 3-2 pitch, with the runners going, Kang hit a swinging-bunt ground ball down the third base line, leaving Young with no chance at a play at first. Barely an hour before, the Crimson was down 12-0. Now, the score stood at 13-12, with a comeback for the ages in full view.

Burns even retired the first two batters in the top of the eighth. With Cooper, Rounds, and Lybrook set to come to bat in the bottom of the frame, the Crimson’s home fans were ready to go ballistic.

But then the comeback train derailed. Boree was the boogeyman again, keeping the inning alive with a single, which was followed by another single, a walk to load the bases, and a two-RBI double from Brasher. Burns was yanked for senior reliever Porter Jordheim, making his first appearance since the Citadel series, and the difficult inning continued. Jordheim walked his first two batters, forcing in a run with the latter, before retiring Peterson to end the inning. The Bears had seized the momentum again, and led 16-12.

Cooper gave the Crimson hope for one last burst of magic, lining a clean single to right to start the bottom of the eighth. But Young managed to neutralize Rounds, Lybrook, and Berger, the Crimson’s best hope for a late rally. The Bears managed to score four more runs in the ninth off catcher Sawyer Feller, who came in to give the bullpen a rest, and the Crimson went down strikeout-strikeout-strikeout to seal the defeat. The energy that Cooper sensed in the dug-out down 12-0 was real, but the Crimson couldn’t put together the offensive and defensive masterpiece it would have needed to complete the comeback.

Now, the Crimson will turn its attention to a midweek game and a hallowed Boston tradition: the 33rd Baseball Beanpot, which will start on Tuesday with a semifinal matchup against the Boston College Eagles at O’Donnell Field. The Northeastern Huskies and UMass Minutemen will face off in the other semifinal at the same time in Brookline. If the Crimson advances, it will play in the final round for the second consecutive year and vie for its sixth Beanpot title next Tuesday. Win or lose, the squad will make the trek north to Ithaca this weekend to play another Bears team: the Cornell Bears (6-11, 4-2 Ivy). It will hope to gain its first Ivy League series win of the season.

“It’s an opportunity to be a part of some Boston tradition, a little bit of legacy. A little bit more than our usual season,” Cooper said of the tournament kicking off today. “It’s at home, we get another opportunity to be in front of our friends and family. It’s just the best.”

The Beanpot semifinal will go live at 3:00 p.m. today and will be streamed on ESPN+.

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

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

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