As the fickle New England weather reverted back to the typical blustery, cold winter conditions, the Harvard softball team traveled to sunny Orlando, Fla., for the Citrus Classic. After winning its first two games on Friday, the Crimson dropped the final three to begin its season with a 2-3 record.
The level of Harvard’s competition increased significantly as the tournament progressed. On Saturday, the Crimson faced off against No. 23 Kentucky, and on Sunday it took on Louisville, which was last season’s 60th-ranked team in the nation by RPI.
“I think coming down here we all knew this tournament was going to be challenging,” junior lefthander Katie Duncan said. “It was going to push us, especially because it was our first time out, but we were really excited for the challenge.”
Duncan served as Harvard’s workhorse over the weekend, throwing 23.2 innings and making appearances in all five games, four of which she started. Duncan is far and away the most experienced hurler on the roster, as there are no senior pitchers, classmate Sarah Smith missed time with injury, and the rest of the rotation is comprised of sophomores.
“We would love to have our bullpen, and we know our pitchers are working to get to that point, but having Katie throw so many innings and be consistent was huge for us, and we’re really hoping she can maintain that throughout the season,” junior third baseman Erin Lockhart said.
LOUISVILLE 4, HARVARD 3
Through six and a half innings on Sunday morning, it appeared as though the Crimson would fly back to Cambridge with three wins on the weekend. However, a last-ditch rally for the Cardinals (10-4) was too much for Harvard to handle.
The Crimson entered the bottom of the seventh clinging to a 3-2 lead with sophomore Olivia Giaquinto in the circle. Giaquinto hit the first batter she faced, and coach Jenny Allard opted to bring starter Duncan back into the fold. A sacrifice bunt and an error put runners on the corners with one out for Louisville. Duncan hit Blaire Bass to load the bases, but she answered by striking out the next batter.
One more out and Harvard would go home with three wins. One more baserunner, and the Cardinals would force extra innings.
It turned out that Louisville got that baserunner and didn’t stop there. Caitlin Ferguson and Jamie Soles drew a pair of walks, and Maddy Newman crossed the plate as the winning run.
For the second consecutive game, the Crimson posted just four hits. Junior shortstop Rhianna Rich was responsible for half of those—a single and a double.
KENTUCKY 9, HARVARD 3
Harvard hung with Kentucky (9-3), ranked 23rd in the NCAA, through five and a half innings. However, the Wildcats used two huge offensive frames and shutdown pitching in the second half of the game to pull away from the Crimson.
When Harvard took the field in the bottom of the sixth, it trailed by just two runs, 5-3. However, by the time the Crimson recorded the third out, Kentucky had padded its lead with four more runs. Six hits, five of which were singles, allowed the Wildcats to circle the bases until Duncan re-entered the game in relief to strike out the final batter of the inning.
Earlier, Harvard held a 3-1 lead at the midpoint of the game. The Crimson jumped out to a two-run lead in the top of the first on the strength of a Meagan Lantz double and a Lockhart sacrifice fly. Junior co-captain Kaitlyn Schiffhauer plated Harvard’s third run in the top of the fourth with a double to center field.
Kentucky out-hit Harvard, 13-3, but the visitors managed to hang with the Wildcats by killing rallies and taking advantage of its own offensive opportunities. Kentucky stranded nine runners to the Crimson’s four.
DUKE 5, HARVARD 0
After scoring 11 runs on Friday night, Harvard’s offense went quiet in its first action on Saturday. Duke (9-5), a first-year program at the Division I level, posted its fourth shutout in 14 games.
Blue Devils righthander Katherine Huey got the start and tossed four shutout innings. Peyton St. George followed up with three scoreless innings of her own to secure the combined shutout. Each pitcher has a season ERA under 2.00.
The Crimson’s offense was capped at just four hits, none of which went for extra bases, and one walk. Harvard only struck out three times, but Duke played a clean game in the field between its duo of pitchers.
“I think Saturday we definitely saw some better pitching and some better defensive teams, and they were also making some pretty good plays on us,” Lockhart said.
HARVARD 11, MIAMI (OH) 8
In a high-scoring affair, the Crimson advanced to 2-0 in the Citrus Classic. Every player in the starting lineup reached base at least once.
Twice, Miami (3-6) put up a fight after facing large deficits. In the top of the fifth, trailing 9-4, the Redhawks plated four runs to slash Harvard’s advantage. Miami managed just one hit in this inning but took advantage of control issues from the Crimson’s bullpen. One inning earlier, the Redhawks were down three runs but pulled within one on the strength of an RBI single and an RBI double.
Duncan stymied Miami’s multiple comeback attempts by finishing out the game with 2.1 innings of shutout ball.
Lantz and freshman Morgan Melito each collected three hits, and Lockhart went two-for-three with her first home run of the season.
This game was one of firsts for a pair of Harvard players. On the first pitch of her first collegiate at-bat, freshman outfielder Alyssa Saldana hit a home run. Joining the club in the bottom of the sixth, sophomore catcher Lindey Kneib recorded her first career homer.
“All three of the freshmen did a great job stepping up and contributing in big roles,” Duncan said. “All in all, the freshmen have really added the depth that the team needed and have contributed immediately, not only on the field but also in the dugout, being positive, upbeat and really into the game, cheering everybody on.”
HARVARD 4, PURDUE 3
The Crimson opened its 2018 campaign with a close victory over Purdue (2-11). Duncan tossed six innings without conceding an earned run, striking out three in the process.
After five relatively quiet offensive innings, a flurry of runs in the sixth and seventh gave Harvard the victory. In the top of the sixth, Rich knotted the score at two with an RBI double, and her double play partner Lantz drove her in with an opposite-field base hit.
The Crimson extended its lead to 4-2 in the top of the seventh and needed just three outs to start its tournament with a win. However, Purdue put runners on the corners with no outs to start the bottom half of the frame. Duncan returned to the mound in Alissa Hiener’s stead, but the Boilermakers’ Stephanie Ramsey ripped a single into left field to cut Harvard’s lead to one.
Before Purdue could continue its comeback bid, however, Duncan regrouped. The junior struck out Alexa Binckes and induced a double play to shut down the Boilermakers’ effort.
On the offensive end, a trio of juniors set the tone. Rich, Lantz, and junior catcher Elizabeth Shively combined for seven hits, three runs scored, and three runs batted in.
—Staff writer Jack Stockless can be reached at email@example.com.
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