Competing in the Carolina Classic, the second of three tournaments before the beginning of conference play, Harvard softball (3-6) dropped three out of four of its games in North Carolina. The Crimson nearly flew home with a 2-2 split, but a late offensive push by Kansas downed Harvard in extra innings on Saturday.
“Being able to beat an SEC team and push a Big 12 team to extra innings were great achievements,” junior pitcher Katie Duncan said. “As a team we came down to this tournament to push ourselves and walk away better. We absolutely achieved that goal.”
NORTH CAROLINA 6, HARVARD 1
North Carolina (7-13) rebounded in its second matchup against the Crimson, this time prevailing in Sunday’s consolation game, 6-1.
Harvard amassed just three hits—junior second baseman Meagan Lantz, freshman first baseman Morgan Melito, and senior left fielder Alexa Altchek combined for four total bases.
“The one thing we are targeting to work on offensively is making adjustments faster,” junior shortstop Rhianna Rich said. “Better pitchers succeed in throwing off timing and keeping the hitter off balance so it is important for us to know what adjustments we need to make and employ them every during our at bats.”
A shutout was in play until the bottom of the seventh. In the last frame, junior third baseman Erin Lockhart scored on a single to left field courtesy of Altchek.
The Crimson had no answer for Tar Heels starter Brittany Pickett until it pushed across that unearned run in its last trip to the plate. Pickett tossed all seven innings, allowing just three hits and a walk and striking out two.
Two of North Carolina’s runs came via the long ball. Tar Heels Hailey Jensen and Kristina Burkhardt each hit solo shots. The two home runs were more than Harvard had allowed in its previous eight games.
KANSAS 4, HARVARD 3 (8 INNINGS)
Despite two late comeback bids, the Crimson ultimately fell to Kansas (16-3) in Saturday’s lone game. The loss curtailed Harvard’s bid to compete in Sunday’s championship.
In the seventh and eighth innings, the Crimson appeared poised to escape unscathed on the defensive end, but each time the Jayhawks managed to drive in runs with two outs.
In the top of the seventh, Kansas center fielder Brittany Jackson led off the inning reaching on a fielding error, but Duncan responded by inducing consecutive groundouts. However, cleanup hitter and catcher Karli Ridling avoided that same fate, roping a double into the left-center gap to drive in Jackson, putting the Jayhawks on top, 3-2.
The Crimson held on in its half of the seventh to extend the contest to extra innings. Singles by Olivia Giaquinto and co-captain Kaitlyn Schiffhauer along with a walk by Maddy Kaplan loaded the bases. With two outs, Kansas shortstop Shelby Gayre misplayed a ball off the bat of Lantz, and Schiffhauer scored with the tying run.
But this come-from-behind effort would prove to be all for naught, as the Jayhawks pushed across another run in the top of the eighth. With two outs and a runner on second, pinch hitter Mikayla Warren singled to drive in Erin McGinley with the go-ahead run, making it a 4-3 ballgame.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to face these better teams, especially offensively because it challenges us to stay within our game plan and make adjustments according to whoever we’re facing,” Rich said.
In the bottom of the sixth, Harvard scored its first run since the first inning to tie the game, 2-2. Lantz faced a favorable 3-1 hitter’s count but then fouled off six consecutive pitches to extend her at-bat. Lantz finally broke the stalemate on the 11th pitch of the at-bat, launching a home run over the left-field wall for her first long ball of the season.
Duncan replaced Giaquinto in the circle to start the third inning, and the junior finished out the remaining six innings. Duncan allowed two earned runs in her outing, further establishing herself as the team’s ace.
HARVARD 4, NORTH CAROLINA 3
In the second game of Friday’s doubleheader, the Crimson faced off against the tournament’s host and was locked in a contentious battle from the start. Heading into the bottom of the seventh, North Carolina trailed, 4-3, but had scored in its previous trip to the plate and had its two, three, and four hitters due up.
The situation appeared promising for the Tar Heels at the outset, but they immediately ran into a major roadblock: Harvard’s Katie Duncan.
Duncan silenced the first two hitters, Kiani Ramsey and Taylor Wike, with full-count strikeouts. After allowing a single through the left side of the infield, Duncan regrouped and forced Brittany Pickett to look at strike three to end the game.
“Honestly I wasn’t even thinking about who they had up to bat, but how I could execute the best possible pitches I could,” Duncan said. “I think the coaches adjusted to the hitters up by going more to the curveball and changeup than we had in the past innings.”
Duncan scattered 11 hits over seven innings to pick up her first complete-game victory of the season. One of the three runs she conceded was unearned, and she sat down five batters on strikeouts.
Offensively, Rich led the way. The junior went three-for-four, scored two runs, and stole two bases.
The Crimson jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first and broke a 2-2 tie with two more runs in the top of the fifth. In the first inning, Rich picked up one each of her hits, runs, and stolen bases, and Melito doubled in a run. Back-to-back singles from co-captain and right fielder Maddy Kaplan and Lantz chased in Harvard’s fifth-inning runs.
ELON 5, HARVARD 1
Coach Jenny Allard opted to save Duncan in the opening matchup of the Carolina Classic. Sophomore hurlers Giaquinto and Alissa Hiener held their own in Duncan’s stead, but the Crimson’s offense struggled to produce in its first action of the weekend.
The game was relatively close until the bottom of the fifth, when Elon (11-6) plated three runs on two hits. Harvard redeemed itself on a double by Phoenix Kara Shutt when Schiffhauer relayed to Lantz, who threw out the Elon baserunner at the plate. After being cut down trying to score, however, the Phoenix managed three runs, pushed home by a single, a fielder’s choice, and a wild pitch.
After scoring a run in the top of the fourth on an RBI single from freshman left fielder Alyssa Saldana, the Crimson’s bats went silent. In the three innings that followed, Harvard went three up, three down each trip to the plate. None of these nine outs were punch outs, but many involved soft contact, including a foul out and a pair of pop outs.
Just three Crimson batters managed to record hits—Kaplan, Lockhart, and Saldana all singled once in the loss. Kaplan and Melito each drew walks.
Putting the bat on the ball has not been a major problem for Harvard thus far in 2018. Just two of its 21 outs came via the strikeout.
—Staff writer Jack Stockless can be reached at email@example.com
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