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Softball Preps to Battle Dartmouth in Ivy League Title Match

Senior Alexa Altchek connects on a pitch earlier this season against Princeton. Harvard did well lined up at plate this season, notching a top-three spot in the categories of batting average, OBP, and slugging percentage. Dartmouth has been mediocre by the same standards.
This weekend, Dartmouth softball handily swept Brown to finish 16-5 in conference play. In doing so, the Big Green clinched home field advantage in the Ivy League Championship Series and will host Harvard next weekend in a best-of-three set.

“We’re excited,” Crimson coach Jenny Allard said. “I’m expecting some really great games. I thought both teams played really hard in the regular season series. I’m expecting our team to come out on fire and ready to go, so it’ll be a great series.”

Despite finishing with the better league record, Dartmouth is outmatched by Harvard offensively, and both teams are relatively even in the circle. The Crimson was top-three in the Ivy League in batting average, OBP, and slugging percentage, while the Big Green’s lineup was largely mediocre by conference standards. Dartmouth’s slight pitching advantage comes from its depth—none of its three hurlers posted an ERA above 4.00, and accordingly it led the Ancient Eight in ERA, hits allowed, and walks allowed. If Harvard can ride juniors Katie Duncan and Sarah Smith for the two or three-game set, it will be in a good spot.

“I do think their pitchers are pretty strong if you’re just looking at stats,” junior shortstop Rhianna Rich said. “So I think that’s a pretty tough challenge. They have a lot of the top pitching in the Ivy League, but as well I think they have a lot of fire as a team and are going to come out really strong. They don’t really let other teams push them over, so I think that’s going to be the biggest challenge, really fighting to win against how they approach the game.”

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JUNIORS PAVING THE WAY

The Crimson’s 2018 lineup is anchored by junior infielders Erin Lockhart, Rhianna Rich, and Meagan Lantz. Lockhart led the team with five home runs and compiled a .369 OBP despite a .202 batting average. Rich paced the league in triples and runs scored while hitting .455 with a 1.174 OPS. Lantz recovered from an ACL injury that kept her off the field last season to hit .376 with a .966 OPS.

This trio was also very active on the basepaths, stealing a combined 30 bags. Lantz led the way with 16, good for second best in the conference. Overall, Harvard swiped 44 bases, also the second-best mark in the Ancient Eight.

Co-captain Maddy Kaplan is a year ahead of the team’s junior core, but she likewise powered the team offensively from the second spot in the lineup. The right fielder closed out her regular season career by hitting .393 with a .948 OPS, racking up 10 doubles and a team-leading 29 RBIs.

Junior infielder Erin Lockhart fields a ground ball and rockets it to first in the team’s prior matchup with Dartmouth in April.
The Crimson’s pitching staff was likewise anchored by juniors. Southpaw Katie Duncan was second in the Ivy League in innings pitched with 130, led the conference with three saves, and compiled a 14-8 record with a 2.75 ERA. Right-hander Sarah Smith was even better from a run prevention standpoint, finishing the year with a 2.13 ERA and a .226 opponents’ batting average.

POWER HITTING, POWER PITCHING

Harvard’s junior leadership is countered by the Big Green’s quartet of power hitters and formidable pitching staff.

Of Dartmouth’s 29 home runs before the conclusion of play on Sunday, 25 were hit by juniors Taylor Ward and Morgan Martinelli, sophomore Micah Schroder, and freshman Schae Nelson. Each had a slugging percentage over .500. The four also drove in 90 of the team’s 134 runs.

Though that group of four kept the Big Green in games offensively, Dartmouth mainly relied on shutting down opposing lineups. Its pitchers were a force to be reckoned with in 2018, as they compiled a 3.12 ERA and a .257 opponents’ batting average ahead of the season finale against Brown.

Senior right-hander Breanna Ethridge was the ace of the staff, compiling a 2.79 ERA and punching out 106 batters in 108 innings of work. Ethridge started 21 games as the Big Green opted for a small three-pitcher rotation, with freshmen Shelby Wilkison and Heather Turner making the rest of the team’s appearances in the circle.

A BIT OF HISTORY

The past two seasons, the Crimson earned a spot in the championship series only to bow out to Princeton both times. Each of those Harvard teams were relatively young, and this year’s iteration will now look to utilize that playoff experience. The Crimson hosted the series in 2016 and lost in three, and it traveled to Princeton last year and was eliminated as the Tigers took the first two contests.

Dartmouth returns to the conference final for the first time since 2015, when it won the series over Penn. The Big Green has just one other championship, which it won the year previous in 2014. Each time, Dartmouth defeated the Quakers to advance to the next round of NCAA playoff competition.

In their regular season meetings on April 21 and 22, Harvard emerged victorious over the Big Green by winning the first two contests. The Crimson prevailed in a marathon in the opener, as Duncan pitched all 11 innings and Lockhart hit a solo homer. Harvard comfortably won game two as Smith took a no-hitter into the fifth, and Dartmouth came back to salvage the Sunday game.

Each team closed out its regular season against Brown, as the Crimson dropped its last series by losing two games to the Bears and the Big Green just wrapped up a sweep.

“We have to earn it these next two weeks and really buckle down and focus on the things we need to work on, and although we did lose two games this weekend I think it’s an opportunity for us to grow and learn how we can be better for the championship,” Rich said.

Allard and her team repeatedly preach the importance of grit, teamwork, and trusting the process, and all three will be crucial heading into playoff softball.

“I think it’ll be really key to stick together as a team and support one another, pick each other up when we need to and come out really with high energy and just [play] for each other and [fight] to keep our season going,” Lantz said.

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

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