In the end, a team that usually only lost when it beat itself was beaten by a worthy opponent—Princeton’s Thomas Pauly.
After downing Dartmouth for the Red Rolfe division title, the Harvard baseball team faced Princeton in a three-game set for the Ivy championship and an NCAA bid.
It was the same Tigers team, literally, that the Crimson had swept in two games for the title the season before. Princeton’s rotation and lineup hadn’t changed, and neither had its star.
Pauly picked up the save in game one and earned the complete-game victory in the third game, in the process sending the Tigers to the postseason and Harvard home. But it didn’t feel much like revenge.
The 2003 season was more of an Ivy title quest than an Ivy title defense for the Crimson, because the title was never really its own to defend.
Like so many championship clubs, the 2002 team had prevailed and then parted, leaving only a few contributors behind to begin again. The result was a kamikaze club of fearless first-timers and breakthrough veterans, charging at the title with a brash confidence uniquely its own.
“A lot of coaches like to say that we’ve got a young team, so we’re going to be good in a year or two,” Harvard coach Joe Walsh said before his team even played a game. “Uh-uh. I say it’ll be a game or two.”
The season was disjointed and inconsistent, producing as many “What ifs?” as “Wows,” and finally a resounding “Wait ’til next year.”
It started, as it always does, in Florida, with nine games—and seven losses—crammed into ten days.
When the team returned from Florida, the overwhelming sentiment was that Harvard was much improved—even without catcher Mickey Kropf, who transferred to Vanderbilt, and junior pitcher Marc Hordon, who was lost to a shoulder injury. Close losses to perennial powers Miami and Florida International, as well as stellar play from freshmen, left the team hopeful.
“It was just everyone starting to play to their potential,” sophomore catcher Schuyler Mann said of the strong finish. “It gives us a lot to look forward to coming back and getting ready for the Ivy season.”
And, after a disappointing 3-5 Ivy-opening mark, the Crimson really did look good—especially its offense. Led by a lineup that batted over .300, Harvard took three-of-four from both Yale and Brown to take a one-game lead on Dartmouth going into the season’s final weekend.
But with four games slated, the Crimson had a problem. It only had three starting pitchers.
Junior first baseman Trey Hendricks had emerged as Harvard’s ace early in the season after several impressive performances. Most notably, Hendricks outpitched Cornell’s Chris Schutt—expected to be drafted in the top five rounds—in a 3-1 Harvard victory. But now, after aggravating a knee problem that had plagued him for more than eight months, Hendricks would miss the duration of the Ivy season while recovering from surgery to remove a bone chip.
So when freshman Matt Brunnig and sophomore transfer Mike Morgalis both lost their starts on Saturday in Hanover, the Crimson needed two wins but didn’t know who could deliver them.