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Softball Set to Battle Columbia in Ivy Road Series

Junior shortstop Rhianna Rich continues to rake this season, most recently going 5-for-7 with a triple and a home run in the Princeton series.

With three conference series already in the books, Harvard softball has jumped out to an early lead in the Ivy League. The key to its success? The process.

“Trust the process” is a sports cliché that has gained prominence because of the tanking and rebuilding efforts of the National Basketball Association’s Philadelphia 76ers. Though it is unclear whether the Crimson could make a copyright claim on the phrase or whether the team borrowed it along the way, Harvard has embraced all facets of coach Jenny Allard’s process.

“It’s really sticking to putting ourselves in a good mindset, and all the work we can do physically beforehand,” junior pitcher Katie Duncan said. “I think that’s the process—being able and aware each and every step of the way to contribute and to put all your effort out there.”

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Coming off a three-game sweep of Princeton, the Crimson (13-11, 6-3 Ivy League) will travel to New York to face off against another Ivy South Division opponent this coming weekend. This time, Harvard battles an upstart Columbia program (11-14, 5-4). The Lions have not registered a winning season in the Ancient Eight for over 10 years, but this spring they have won their series against Penn and Yale and picked up a win over Dartmouth.

Despite Columbia’s struggles in recent campaigns, the Lions swept the Crimson in last year’s two-game set. The second game of that series proved particularly painful for Harvard, as Columbia rattled off four runs in the bottom of the seventh to walk off with a 6-5 victory.

This season, the Lions return a few top contributors and are paced offensively by senior infielders Taylor Troutt and Madison Gott. Troutt is batting .408 with a 1.109 OPS, and Gott has posted a .362 average and a 1.075 OPS. Gott and Troutt sit third and fourth, respectively, in slugging percentage in the conference, and Gott paces the Ancient Eight with 12 doubles. The Lions also have a cadre of long-ball hitters—freshman Maria Pagane and sophomore Amanda Nishihira have bashed five apiece, and Gott has tacked on four of her own. As a team, Columbia leads the Ivy League with 22 big flies.

Compared to its high-powered offense, the Lions’ pitching staff is not as remarkable. Columbia sits at fifth in the conference in ERA (4.25) and has allowed opposing batters to hit .300.

To prepare for a Lions offense that will likely put up more resistance than that of Princeton, the Crimson may need to draw upon its experiences in pressure situations this past weekend.

“When Princeton got ahead for instance, or when we had one or two outs and we still needed to rally and had people on base, being able to execute in those high-pressure situations...allows us to really hone in on our skills, especially in the Ivy season,” Duncan said.

For her efforts against Princeton, shortstop Rhianna Rich was named Ivy League Player of the Week. The junior captured the award for the second time this season. In 24 games, Rich is slashing .398/.468/.590 with six stolen bases and Ivy-leading marks of four triples and 30 runs scored.

Prior to its upcoming series in New York, Harvard was slated to play Boston University on Tuesday evening, but predictions of inclement weather and poor field conditions at the Terriers’ home field led the teams to postpone the affair.

This is the third game on the Crimson’s 2018 schedule to be called off—Harvard missed a contest against FGCU in the Loyola Marymount Invitational because of rain, and last Thursday a matchup at Holy Cross was likewise postponed.

Speaking of the opportunity to tune up at BU before heading to Columbia, Rich spoke on the value of playing such a talented team to prepare for an Ivy series.

“BU...beat Oklahoma, which was the No. 1 ranked team at the time in preseason, which was a really big win for them,” Rich said. “I think it’s honestly a great game to prepare for the next weekend because Columbia will be a strong team.”

Though the Crimson ultimately will not have this chance to prepare with a midweek game, it can use this postponement to build some rest into its schedule. After all, with the new three-game conference series format, Harvard is guaranteed at least one doubleheader each week until the end of the regular season.

—Staff writer Jack Stockless can be reached at jack.stockless@thecrimson.com.

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