The ever-fickle New England weather forced Harvard softball to bump up its series against Penn by one day, as Friday’s sunny, seasonal temperature seemed preferable to blustery, wintry conditions forecast for Sunday.
Though the weather cooled down by Saturday afternoon, the Crimson’s bats did not. Harvard (18-12, 11-4 Ivy) scored 25 runs in its three games versus the visiting Quakers (12-18, 7-8), and the team picked up its second Ivy League series sweep out of five such series this season. Just Dartmouth and Brown remain as conference opponents before the end of the regular season.
“It was a really great weekend to come out and get the series win,” junior shortstop Rhianna Rich said. “[The Dartmouth series] is probably our biggest weekend in the past two years, so we’re really excited. We’re just going to keep the momentum going.”
The Crimson’s top performers over the weekend were a pair of familiar faces. Rich went 9-for-12 with two doubles, a triple, five runs scored, 3 RBI, and no strikeouts. Southpaw Katie Duncan started Friday’s game and came out of the bullpen in both games of Saturday’s doubleheader. The junior threw 14.2 innings without allowing an earned run, winning the first two contests and closing out the series with a save.
HARVARD 8, PENN 2
Whereas a defensive miscue allowed Penn to claw back into Saturday’s first game, the second half of the doubleheader saw Harvard exhibit more poise on defense, most notably in the top of the second. Starter Sarah Smith jammed Quakers pitcher Abigail Abramson on an inside fastball, and Abramson popped it up down the third base line. Junior third baseman Erin Lockhart gave chase, sprinting toward Penn’s dugout. At the last second, she dove and caught the foul ball just as it was about to touch dirt.
Besides inducing this popout, Smith was otherwise brilliant in the circle. The junior dealt in fours, as she recorded her fourth win with four innings of one-run ball and four strikeouts.
Duncan picked up where Smith left off, tossing the final three frames to record her second save of 2018. Duncan flummoxed the Quakers’ lineup with a bevy of strikes on the corners, prompting one Penn fan—apparently mystified by the plate umpire’s strike zone—to repeatedly question Duncan’s called strikes, but the umpire appeared unfazed.
Offensively, it was business as usual for the high-powered Crimson offense. Harvard scored at least eight runs for the third straight game, fueled by five extra base hits. Rich smacked two doubles, and co-captain Maddy Kaplan and senior Dallas Hogan also recorded two-baggers.
Perhaps the most impressive hit of the day came in the bottom of the sixth, however. Four consecutive singles scored three runs for the Crimson before the Quakers could make an out, and junior Meagan Lantz later stepped up with a runner on first and one out. The second baseman turned on an offering from Penn left-hander Tabitha Dyer, launching a high fly toward the wall in left-center. The violent winds cutting in from center field made the ball hang up in the cold spring air for what seemed like an eternity, and it eventually landed at the base of the wall for a triple.
“Definitely,” said coach Jenny Allard in response to a question about whether the conditions impacted fly balls on Saturday. “I think that last ball of Meagan Lantz’s would’ve gone out.”
HARVARD 8, PENN 7
After a flurry of scoring set up a 7-5 Harvard lead in the first three innings, the Crimson and the Quakers settled down in the following three innings, holding each other scoreless. Heading into the top of the seventh, Harvard needed just three outs to cinch the series victory.
With one out and runners on first and second, however, Penn took advantage of a play replete with fielding errors to knot the game at seven. The Crimson failed to walk it off in the bottom of the seventh, setting up an extra-innings battle.
Duncan stayed in the circle for the top of the eighth, quickly retiring the side with a trio of groundouts. Harvard had to figure out Abramson, who to that point had been marvellous—the freshman had pitched 4.2 scoreless innings of relief.
And figure out Abramson the Crimson did. Rich launched a triple to right field to open up the inning, and Kaplan followed with a walk-off sacrifice fly to center fielder Katie Petroski.
“They’ve got confidence,” Allard said. “They’re poised. So when they get down, they don’t panic. We knew what we could do and we just tried to work the execution, and it worked out.”
Senior outfielder Alexa Altchek and Lockhart each doubled in the victory, and Kaplan stole her fourth base of the season.
HARVARD 9, PENN 1 (6 INNINGS)
Harvard started off its weekend series with a bang, scoring five runs in the first two innings and never looking back. The Crimson tacked on four runs in the fifth and sixth to halt the game early via the eight-run mercy rule.
Harvard’s four-run first inning was punctuated by a two-run shot off the bat of first baseman Olivia Giaquinto, the fourth of her sophomore campaign. Giaquinto now has 11 homers and an .840 OPS in her young career.
Giaquinto also played a part in the Crimson’s other big offensive inning by leading off the fifth with a single. After Harvard subsequently loaded the bases, Hogan punched a single up the middle to score pinch runner Isabelle Haugh, and Rich followed with a gap shot to left-center, bringing in Lindey Kneib and Alyssa Saldana.
The Crimson manufactured a run in the following frame to ice the contest. Altchek walked, advanced to second on a Giaquinto groundout, and scampered to third on a wild pitch. Kneib singled into center field, pushing across the winning run in the process.
In customary fashion, Duncan shut down the opposing lineup without overpowering hitters. She struck out just one Quaker but also gave up just one unearned run. On the season Duncan has stranded runners on base left and right, as evidenced by her 2.58 ERA and 1.45 WHIP.
“She’s a really strong, tenacious player,” Rich said. “One of our key words for this year has been fortitude, and she is really the great example of that. Even if she doesn’t have her best stuff, she always manages to come out on top, and it was great to see her have a good weekend.”
—Staff writer Jack Stockless can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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