Saturday, March 24, 2007

Spring Break Opener: THE Ohio State University 5, Harvard 3

First, a disclaimer: Harvard's impressive victory over Notre Dame two weeks ago offered a window into what this year's Crimson edition is capable of, but always be mindful of the larger purpose of Joe Walsh's "take all comers" approach to non-conference scheduling. It is the 52-ounce bat you swing in the on-deck circle to get ready for the Ivy season. Adjust your expectations accordingly during the coming week's breakneck slate in Florida, and you'll be in much better position to enjoy the ride.

Now that you're in the proper frame of mind, meet the Ohio State Buckeyes (13-3), preseason favorite to win the Big Ten and bona fide aspirant to take in Omaha's many pleasures later this summer. You may remember them from such winning streaks as their last 12 games. It turns out their highly regarded weekend rotation features more than a couple guys whom parts of Columbus consider Greg Oden-in-stirrups. Today, Harvard (2-3) faced three linchpins of that vaunted staff in a single nine-inning game. The box score suggests this was as tough a challenge as you'd think -- but only for the first eight innings. In the ninth -- and here's that silver lining that portends well against the more relevant Red Rolfe foes -- the Crimson torched OSU's sophomore manchild Jake Hale for a three-run, two-out rally. Harvard even got the tying run to the plate before falling, 5-3. More on the near-comeback in a second.

Shawn Haviland started for Harvard and got tagged with the loss, despite showing some pluck against a tough lineup. Kurt Svoboda, as usual, tells the story in good detail here.

These games against elite programs are always interesting for acquainting you with names you'll eventually hear again in the June amateur draft. (Before Craig Hansen was a first round pick for the Red Sox in 2005, he was pitching in the Metrodome against Harvard earlier that spring.) OSU lefthander Cory Luebke might be another of those guys. The Buckeyes ace and Big Ten POY contender was draft-eligible as a sophomore last year on account of being old for his grade. He went in the 22nd rd (due to signability considerations likely), opted to stay in school, and today continued to make his case for a higher-round selection this year with six shutout innings against Harvard, striking out eight. Only Brendan Byrne and Matt Rogers managed hits.

OSU also gave Harvard a two-inning dose of another of its weekend starters, JB Shuck. All he did was keep Harvard hitless in the seventh and eighth.

Then entered 6-foot-7 Hale, the Buckeyes' imposing answer to Jonathan Papelbon in that he has moved from frontline starter as a freshman to lights-out closer as a soph. (Witness the sub-1.00 ERA to go along with four saves.) With no save possibility in order Friday, Hale may have been treating his appearance in a 5-0 game as a live bullpen session. But after a walk to Steffan Wilson and a wall-ball double by an ever-impressive Tom Stack-Babich, torque specialist Andrew Prince socked a three-run blast to right that gave Harvard some life. Byrne then reached on a base hit before Hale induced a groundout to end the game.

With that, Day 1 of the Crimson's spring break gauntlet ended on something of a positive note. As always, we welcome eyewitness accounts in the comments section. Congrats to Prince on his first Harvard homer.

Harvard meets another Big Ten entry, Northwestern, later today. Get your live stats here.

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