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Harvard Baseball Enters Crucial Stretch for Ivy League Standings

Junior outfielder Ben Rounds runs the bases at Harvard's Apr. 11 Beanpot tournament game against then-No. 11 ranked Boston College. The Crimson went on to give the Eagles the Beanpot title after a 5-4 loss.
Junior outfielder Ben Rounds runs the bases at Harvard's Apr. 11 Beanpot tournament game against then-No. 11 ranked Boston College. The Crimson went on to give the Eagles the Beanpot title after a 5-4 loss. By Courtesy of Philip Tor/Harvard Athletics
By Jack Canavan and Miles J. Herszenhorn, Crimson Staff Writers

It took longer than expected, but Harvard’s baseball team completed its fifth series of Ivy League conference play this season against Brown University in Providence, R.I., on Tuesday. Inclement weather forced the three-game weekend series to stretch into the workweek, but the extra time did not seem to bother the Crimson as it won the rubber game of the series, defeating the Bears 4-1.

Harvard took two out of three games against Brown, handing the Crimson its fourth Ivy League series victory of the season and continuing a remarkable turnaround from the team’s early season struggles in non-conference play.

The beginning of the season could not have started more turbulently for Harvard. Losing its first four series, the Crimson entered Ivy League play with a record of 2-14, having just recently broken a 12-game losing streak. This was Harvard’s worst start since 2013 when it opened at 1-14 and finished the season at 10-31.

“It was not like we played awful,” head coach Bill Decker said. “We just got walked off six or seven times and that’s disheartening to begin with, but you’ve got to move past that, which we have.”

After a deflating series against Texas A&M Corpus Christi that included a 24-3 loss, it seemed very possible that Harvard would continue this trend for the rest of the season. However, Harvard proved during the second half of the season that it could turn things around. Making a complete 180, the Crimson has gone 10-5 in conference play, finding itself tied for third in the Ivy League standings and just a single game behind first-place Columbia with six games left in the season.

“I mean, obviously, there's a little bit of disappointment in some of the games up north that we've played in,” Decker said, referring to the team’s rough start to the year. “But, for the most part, this club has stayed together. They’ve rallied around one another.”

The turnaround started in early March when Harvard traveled to Philadelphia to face the University of Pennsylvania for its first conference series of the year. The Crimson went 2-1 in the three-game series, which included an extra-inning opening game that was won on a solo shot by senior first baseman Logan Bravo in the top of the tenth inning.

“We got multiple guys in our clubhouse that are able to put this team on their backs,” Decker said of Bravo’s walk-off. “It's just got to be consistent. And you know, if one guy is having a little bit of an average day, hopefully, somebody else can step up.”

Returning to Cambridge, the Crimson played a single non-conference game against the Holy Cross Crusaders of Worcester, Mass. In another close game, Harvard defeated its opponent 6-5 behind 2-RBI days from senior second baseman Hunter Baldwin and first-year shortstop Gio Colasante.

Staying on its home turf, Harvard next matched up with Ivy League rival Princeton for a three-game series. In three high-scoring bouts, the Crimson replicated its result from the Penn series, winning the series at a 2-1 score. Highlighting this series was a doubleheader sweep by Harvard on Apr. 2, powered by strong performances by Bravo, junior third baseman Jake Berger, senior infielder Will Jacobsen and junior right fielder Ben Rounds. The consistency of these four —who make up the top four spots in the lineup — has been a constant factor in Harvard's success this season.

Staying local, the Crimson next traveled to Brookline, Mass. to play the Northeastern Huskies in a first-round, single-elimination Beanpot tournament game. Down 3-2 at the top of the ninth inning, the Crimson scored two late runs behind a sacrifice fly from Rounds and a throwing error from Northeastern, pushing Harvard ahead 4-3 and securing a spot in the Beanpot final.

Harvard then trekked north to play another three-game conference series against Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H. The Crimson swept its Ivy League foe three games to none, behind stellar performances from junior outfielder Peter Messervy (7 hits, 3 RBI in the series) and sophomore right-hander Sean Matson (8.0 IP, 1 ER, 10 SO).

Returning home to Mass., the Crimson turned its attention to the Beanpot championship game, in which Harvard matched up against the No. 11-ranked Boston College Eagles. The Crimson lost in heartbreaking fashion, losing to the Eagles 5-4 on a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Returning to Ivy League play, the Crimson hosted Cornell in mid-April for a three-game series. Harvard

Concluding a four-game home stand, the Crimson played a single game against the newly Division I-minted Stonehill College. After taking a quick 4-0 lead, Harvard’s bats fell silent as the game progressed, getting shut out from the third inning and going on to lose 8-4.

Despite losses along the way, this rejuvenated Crimson team has brought a fire and clutch gene that was nowhere to be found in much of the early season. Turning its attention to a three-game series against Columbia this upcoming weekend, Harvard will enter a crucial stretch that will ultimately decide where it lands in the Ivy League standings and postseason play.

“We need to go out and we need to worry about what we're doing,” Decker said. “And right now it's game one versus Columbia.”

— Staff writer Jack Canavan can be reached at jack.canavan@thecrimson.com.

— Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at miles.herszenhorn@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MHerszenhorn.

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