Harvard softball’s junior class has played an integral role in the team’s success from its initial foray into college softball two seasons ago to its current chase for an Ivy League championship. The anchors of the pitching rotation are both in their third years in coach Jenny Allard’s program. The infield during any given game is almost entirely comprised of juniors. And one of two co-captains, outfielder Kaitlyn Schiffhauer, is also a junior.
So it is only fitting that in crucial games, like this past weekend’s Ivy League series tilt against Penn, the junior class steps up in a big way. This week, it was shortstop Rhianna Rich and pitcher Katie Duncan who answered the call.
For the third time this season, Rich earned Ivy League Player of the Week honors for her performance. In the three-game set, the El Segundo, Calif., native went three-for-four in each contest, to go along with five runs and three RBI, all while battling the elements.
“It’s about tuning out the cold,” Rich said. “Coach always talks about us tuning out the weather and control what you can control. And obviously we can’t control the weather so it’s about buckling down and just focusing on the ball.”
Rich has racked up the most plate appearances on the team as its customary leadoff hitter. Unsurprisingly, she also leads the team in runs scored due to her natural speed and the stacked lineup of hitters that follow her. Rich has scored 37 of the team’s 161 runs this season, and she leads the Ivy League in runs—the next best tally is 26. She also paces the Crimson in on-base percentage and slugging percentage with .483 and .638 marks, respectively.
Perhaps most interesting, though, is Rich’s penchant for triples. In her rookie season, she racked up four three-baggers. Last season it was seven. This year she is at five, which is tops in the Ivy League. In the middle game of the Penn series, a Rich triple in extras proved to be a huge factor in the outcome of the game. Leading off the bottom of the eighth, Rich knocked a pitch deep into right field, motoring all the way around to third. Co-captain Maddy Kaplan followed with a line drive to center field, deep enough to allow Rich to tag and score to give Harvard the walk-off victory.
“For her to lead off with a triple in the bottom of the eighth, that was huge,” Allard said. “She set a tone offensively. She just really was consistent at the plate and made every defensive play.”
Duncan was tabbed the conference’s Pitcher of the Week. The rubber-armed left-hander pitched in all three contests, earning the win in the first two and recording a save in the finale. In the opener, she tossed all six innings and allowed just one unearned run. She came on in relief in the following two games, pitching 5.2 and 3.0 innings, respectively. None of the four total runs that scored off Duncan were earned, so she closed out the weekend with a clean 0.00 ERA and a .179 batting average against.
“Game 2...we brought Katie in, and she did a good job,” Allard said. “They stayed really strong and were able to pull out a win, which was great. We could have easily lost that game. And then Game 3, Sarah [Smith] did a great job. Set a great tone from the beginning. Katie came in to get the save, and offensively we allowed our bats to work and made really great defensive plays.”
After a solid sophomore campaign, Duncan has taken the reins of Harvard’s pitching staff. The Allendale, N.J., native has a 2.58 ERA and has struck out 63 batters. She is 12-7 with two saves, and has seven complete games in her 15 starts.
Duncan and fellow junior Sarah Smith form a daunting combination in the circle. Smith has been just as dominant when she has played this season, as the two have nearly identical ERAs, but the Somerset, N.J., native has pitched just 35.2 innings to Duncan’s 106.
With just six games remaining on the Ancient Eight schedule—three-game weekend series at home against Dartmouth and in Providence, R.I., against Brown—Harvard softball’s junior cohort will look to continue its tremendous impact on the team’s ascent to the top of the Ivy League this season.
“We know that we’re a great team and we have the ability to beat every team in the Ivy League,” Rich said. “So it’s about us trusting ourselves and sticking with the process.”
—Staff writer Jack Stockless can be reached at email@example.com.