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Season Recap: Six Seniors Lead Softball to Top of the North Division

From left to right: Melissa Schellberg, Jennifer Francis, Margaux Black, Dana Roberts, Jessica Pledger, Stephanie Krysiak (Gil Talbot).

A sextet of seniors led a stingy Crimson softball team in 2010. After growing as a squad through a tough non-conference schedule, Harvard entered its Ivy League slate with a noticeable swagger and put together one of the strongest conference records in team history. A thrilling Ivy Championship series against Cornell did not end in Harvard’s favor, but the Crimson knows there is little to hang its head about in 2010.

Harvard showed it had a flair for the dramatic right from the start, as sophomore pitcher Rachel Brown twirled a three-hit, eight-inning shutout, striking out 15 batters, in a 1-0 win over Georgia Southern at the season-opening UCF Invitational. Despite dropping the middle three games of the tournament, the Crimson closed with a 4-0 shutout of local foe Boston College, as Brown pitched her second three-hit shutout of the tournament. For her efforts, Brown became the first pitcher in the 2010 season to receive Ivy League Pitcher of the Week honors.

The Crimson followed with a solid showing at the Amy S. Harrison Classic a week later, where it opened its spring break trip with a 2-2 record at the event. Facing Northern Illinois in the opening game, Harvard got started on the right foot as sophomore Whitney Shaw scored and drove in a run with an RBI double to lead the Crimson to a 2-1 win. After a loss to Idaho State, Harvard bounced back to top the Huskies, 5-4, in eight innings, as freshman pinch-runner Kassy Shiotani came home with the winning run on a fielder’s choice. Harvard met some of its toughest competition of the season towards the end of its spring break trip, including nationally-ranked Texas A&M and Big Twelve member school Kansas.

Boston University came to Cambridge for Harvard’s home opener and the hosts put up their highest run total of the season in a wild 14-8 loss to the Terriers. Harvard quickly righted the ship in its northeast conquest as the Crimson took two at Fairfield March 28. Brown was masterful yet again on the mound, allowing one hit and no runs over seven innings in game one and senior co-captain Melissa Schellberg provided the offense with a sacrifice fly. The Harvard offense erupted in game two as Schellberg went 3 for 5 with three RBI and Shaw also had three RBI in a 10-5 win. Schellberg earned Ivy Player of the Week honors for the week of March 30.

Princeton was the first team up for Harvard in its Ivy League schedule and Brown showed that she saved her best stuff for conference play. The San Diego, Calif., native hurled her first career no-hitter, striking out seven and leading Harvard to a 4-0 win in game one of a non-division doubleheader. Senior Jessica Pledger and freshman Jessica Ferri knocked back-to-back RBI doubles in game two as Harvard captured the sweep with a 3-1 win. A day later, the Crimson split a doubleheader with Ivy South Division front-runner Cornell, as Shaw drove in four runs on the strength of two home runs for a 7-6 win in game two. Harvard doubled-up Holy Cross in a midweek contest April 6, and then split with Ivy South foe Penn at home April 10.

Brown struck gold again in Harvard’s final non-division Ivy matchup as she tossed her second-no hitter in nine days, helping blank Columbia 3-0 and striking out 12 in the process. Senior Jennifer Francis and sophomore Mari Zumbro had run-scoring hits in game two as Brown picked up the save in a 2-1 win to seal the sweep. Brown earned her second Ivy Pitcher of the Week award after notching her second no-hitter in league play.

After an 8-1 win over Providence April 15 and dropping a pair to Boston College April 18, Harvard opened Ivy North Division play with consecutive doubleheaders at home against Brown. The hosts dropped a 1-0 decision in game one but went on to take three of four from the Bears and maintain a slim lead in the division standings. Up next for Harvard was Yale and the Crimson did its best to send a message to the rest of the league, taking all four games against the Bulldogs on their home field to distance itself from the pack. Brown struck out a season-high 16 batters in game one against Yale as Ferri launched a two-run homer and junior Ellen Macadam stole home in a 6-0 win. Six players logged an RBI in game two, fronted by Macadam’s three-RBI effort. A Francis grand slam helped Harvard to a 6-4 win in the third game of the series and Brown held the Bulldogs scoreless, striking out 11 over six innings of work in game four to complete the series sweep.

Harvard entered the final weekend of regular season play in first place in the Ivy North Division, needing to win two games of a four game series against Dartmouth. The Crimson wasted little time getting on the board as Shaw launched a three-run home run in the first inning to propel the hosts to a 9-0, six-inning win in game one. Game two began just a favorably with Harvard scoring three in the first and extending its lead to 7-0 after four innings. The Big Green managed one run but the Crimson was able to clinch its third North Division title in four years of divisional play thanks to a 7-1 final. The Crimson rounded out the regular season with a second doubleheader sweep of the Big Green the following day in Hanover, N.H.

After clinching the Ivy South Division, defending champion Cornell hosted the Ivy League Championship Series, a best-of-three series to determine which team would claim the league title and receive the automatic berth into the NCAA tournament field. Harvard tied the score, 1-1, in the fourth inning of game one, but a two-run sixth lifted the hosts past the Crimson, 3-1, in the opening contest. A pitcher’s duel ensued in the second game as Black and Cornell counterpart Elizabeth Dalrymple kept the game knotted at 1-1 after each conceded a single run in the opening frame. Cornell took a 2-1 lead thanks to an RBI single in the top of the eighth inning, and had the Crimson down to its final out in the bottom of the eighth. Zumbro and Pledger both reached base with two-out singles and Francis won the game in dramatic fashion, belting an 0-1 pitch over the center field fence to give the Crimson a thrilling 4-2 win. In the deciding game three, Black pitched effectively once again and Shaw launched her 13th home run of the year but the Big Red took the 3-2 victory to end Harvard’s hope at an NCAA berth.

The Crimson finished the season with an overall mark of 27-23 and had a number of players recognized by the league following the Ivy championship. Brown earned her second straight All-Ivy League first-team selection, one of two unanimous first-team nods for Harvard. She led the league in a number of categories, including strikeouts (233), appearances (34), shutouts (eight), opponent batting average (.178) and earned-run average (1.37). Classmate Shaw also garnered a unanimous first-team bid after leading the league with 13 home runs and driving in 42 runs on the season. Macadam rounded out Harvard’s first-team selections, pacing the Crimson with a .365 batting average in 2010, and was the lone member of the Crimson to be named to the Louisville Slugger/National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-Northeast Region first-team.

Black earned her first All-Ivy accolade as one of two pitchers named to the second team. After receiving All-Ivy honorable mention nods in her first three seasons, Schellberg received second-team accolades in 2010. Francis picked up a second-team nod, her third league award in her career. Pledger, Krysiak and Ferri all received All-Ivy honorable mention accolades.

The six members of the class of 2010 made sure that this year’s team had a memorable season, and with an Ivy North title and nine All-Ivy League nominees, it will certainly be one to remember.