Following a doubleheader loss to Syracuse on Wednesday, the softball team looks to extend its lead in the Ivy League South Division this weekend. The Red (16-15, 7-1 Ivy League) will take on Columbia (9-22, 3-5) at Niemand-Robison Field in a four game series beginning Saturday afternoon. This weekend will mark both teams’ first games within the Southern division.
The winner of the last three South division titles, the Red is currently atop the conference table. Penn and Princeton are tied for second, while Columbia rounds out the bottom of the division. Despite the Lions’ standing, head coach Dick Blood believes they will nonetheless pose a significant challenge.
“Columbia is very athletic,” Blood said. “They’ve been running the bases well and have a good hitting average — they are all around a good ball club.”
Columbia is batting .259 as a team and has hit a total of six home runs. After losing two games to Harvard last Friday, Columbia swept Dartmouth in a doubleheader on Saturday to close out its play against the Ivy League North division.
Furthermore, senior captain Erin Keene says the four-game format will pose an additional challenge. The Red split its four-game series against Columbia in 2011, falling in both games on the second day.
“Playing four games in a row against the same team is a difficult thing to do,” Keene said. “And winning all of them will be especially difficult. It will be hard to maintain focus and keep winning throughout the weekend.”
The Red’s offense has steadily improved over the last few games, significantly raising the team’s batting average. With an offense led primarily by freshmen and sophomores, the team batted .321 with 15 homeruns over the last nine games, increasing its season average to .259.
Freshman and Ivy League Rookie of the Week Linda Laeufer leads the offense with a batting average of .309, while Keene and sophomore Lauren Buccolo are tied at six homeruns for the team lead.
“Our offense is pretty hot right now,” Keene said. “Against Columbia, I think hitting the ball and seeing the ball are the most important things.”
According to Blood, the Red hopes to continue its offensive success in spite of a couple of tough losses to Syracuse this week. The Orange took an early lead in both games and easily glided to victory, taking the first game in six innings, 10-1, before defeating the Red again that night, 8-1.
“The games we played against Syracuse on Wednesday gave us the opportunity to face some tough pitching,” Blood said. “Hopefully we can use those games to prepare for the weekend. And obviously our Ivy League schedule has prepared us as well.”
In training, the squad has focused on defensive and offensive basics in preparation for the four-game series, Keene said.
“We’ve been working a lot on our defense and communication, just working a lot on mechanics,” she said. “Basically fundamentals, offensively and defensively.”
Sunday not only marks the last home game of the season, but also the Red’s annual Senior Day. The squad will honor the contributions of its six seniors — Keene, Morgan Crawley, Erica Gaeta, Lauren Marx, Jenna Stoller, and Katie Watts. These six women have led Cornell to a four-year-record of 122-65-1, as well as three Ivy League South Division titles, two Ancient Eight wins and one spot in the NCAA tournament.
While the celebration will be a major part of this weekend, Keene says the Red is trying to focus on the games.
“I’m trying not to think about it,” she said. “But it’s exciting. We have a great group of seniors that have been together for all four years. But everyone knows the task at hand and that’s number one no matter what else is going on off the field.”