Let the celebration begin!
After winning three of its four games this weekend, the Cornell softball team earned at least a share of the Ivy League title. The Red accomplished the feat by going 11-3 in conference play, including Saturday’s doubleheader sweep of Penn (9-1, 7-0) and yesterday’s split with Princeton (1-3, 12-0).
The dominant heavyweight, Cornell, flexed its muscles early and often on Saturday against Penn in the first game. Designated hitter freshman Erin Sweeney gave the Red the early lead in the first inning with a home run to start off the game.
However, the Quakers fought back. Penn third baseman Jen Moore reached second on a misplay by shortstop freshman Kate Varde. After a strikeout, Veronica Richardson singled to center, advancing Moore to third. A fielder’s choice created a second and third. However, Cornell starter freshman Sarah Sterman induced a groundout to get out of trouble.
“[Penn] had second and third early in the game, and we pitched out of that jam,” head coach Dick Blood said. “That was really crucial.”
After averting trouble in the top half of the inning, Cornell responded with a vengeance, scoring three times in the second. Junior Christina Trout led off by singling up the middle. Senior Allison Batten stepped up to the plate and promptly whacked a two-run home run to left.
Senior Annette Sheppard then drew a walk and later advanced to second on a wild pitch. Classmate and captain Charlotte Brombach then singled, creating a first and third situation. Sweeney delivered once again, lining a single to center field to score Sheppard.
In the fourth inning, the Quakers notched their only run of the day. Danielle Landolt hit an RBI double to left-center, scoring Richardson, who had walked earlier in the inning. Penn also threatened in the fifth inning, leaving runners stranded on second and third.
Yet, when the game seemed to get close, Cornell snuffed out any hopes of a comeback. With two outs in the bottom of the fifth, Varde doubled into the right-center gap. Junior Kristen Hricenak followed with a single, scoring Varde. Trout singled herself and advanced to second on a defensive miscue, while freshman Sarah Zimmerman, pinch-running for Hricenak, scored.
After Batten walked, Sheppard hammered a pitch over the center field wall for a three-run dinger. With the Red leading by eight runs, the mercy rule was invoked, and Cornell claimed its first victory of the day.
Sterman earned her 13th win of the season by allowing just one run in five solid innings. She scattered five hits and one walk in five innings, and fanned three.
Cornell struck once again in the first inning of the second game. Freshman Melissa Cannon jump-started the offense with a double to center. After a Varde walk, Trout singled to score Cannon. With two runners on, Batten nailed a three-run shot to straightaway centerfield to give the Red a commanding 4-0 lead.
Cornell added another run in the third and two more runs in the fifth. In the third, after a Cannon walk and Varde sacrifice bunt, Hricenak drove in the run by doubling down the right field line. The Red scored in the fifth on an RBI single by senior Katie Maggard and a bases loaded walk by Cannon.
The seven runs were more than enough for the Cornell pitching staff. Starter senior Nicole Zitarelli hurled five and one-third scoreless innings, allowing just four hits and three walks. Freshman reliever Nicole LePera pitched one and two-thirds innings of shutout ball to close out the game.
Undoubtedly, the key to the games was the Red’s ability to get an early lead.
“We really hit the ball well early in both ball games,” Blood noted. “We jump-started ourselves with good pitching and timely hitting.”
Going into yesterday’s doubleheader with Princeton, Cornell knew that it would have a much tougher task. But after a Dartmouth loss to Yale on Saturday afternoon, the Red needed only a split to win a share of the Ivy crown.
In the first game, Princeton’s Devon Keefe gave the Tigers the early advantage with a solo home run in the top of the second. Cornell tried to rally in its half of the inning, but its attempt was stymied on a bizarre play.
Batten continued her hot hitting with a leadoff double to left. The next batter, Sheppard, hit a deep fly ball that seemed destined for extra bases. However, Princeton left fielder Jen Neil made a gorgeous over-the-shoulder catch to rob Sheppard. On the play, Batten tagged up and moved to third. However, the Tigers challenged the ruling and appealed. The umpires decided that Batten had left second base early and called her out, thus effectively ending the rally.
Cornell threatened once again in the fourth inning, but Princeton’s Brianne Galicinao proved too tough. After ceding a leadoff double to Hricenak, Galicinao bore down and proceeded to mow down the next three Cornell batters. She used her riser effectively and struck out the side swinging. For the second time in the game, Cornell failed to score after a leadoff double.
Blood noted the dilemma he faced in the two key situations.
“You’ve got two, three, and four coming up in the lineup with a runner on second,” Blood explained. “You can either take three swipes at it or effectively one after the bunt. I guess we could have moved up the runner, but we didn’t and we’ll have to live with that.”
Holding a narrow 1-0 margin, Princeton scored two insurance runs in the top of the sixth. Kim Veenstra led off the inning with a solid single up the middle. The Tigers moved Veenstra to second on a bunt. Following a lineout, Mackenzie Forsythe stepped to the plate and ripped a single to left.
Cannon charged the ball, hoping to make a throw to the plate, but bobbled it in the process. Veenstra scored, and Forsythe ended up at second. Kristen Del Calvo slashed an RBI single of her own, and in the process chased Cornell starter Sterman from the game and gave the Tigers a 3-0 lead.
Down three runs, Cornell tried to make a comeback in the bottom of the seventh. Batten led off with her second double of the game. Sheppard singled to left and advanced to second on a mental lapse by the left fielder. With runners on second and third, Maggard hit a soft fly ball into right field. However, Princeton right fielder Anna Soper dropped the ball, allowing Batten to score and Maggard to reach base.
The Red could not capitalize on the error though. After a pop out and a groundout, Cannon flied out to end the game.
After pummeling the Quakers the day before, Cornell found that runs were much tougher to come by against Galicinao. She short-circuited the strong Red attack, allowing five hits over seven innings and just one earned run. Although Cornell was able to get runners on base, it was never able to break through for a big inning.
“Galicinao was very tough. She would come in on the hands and then go away,” Blood described.
While the offense struggled in game one, it erupted in the second game. Princeton pitcher Wendy Bingham struggled to find the strike zone and fell behind many hitters. When she came in with pitches in the zone, the Red made her pay dearly.
“Their pitcher got into trouble because she tried to stay away too much,” Blood said. “We just had to make sure we got up on the plate to take away the outside pitch.”
Cornell grabbed the lead in the bottom of the first, touching the plate four times. In the inning, Sweeney, Varde, and Trout walked to load the bases. With the bags juiced, Batten launched a majestic grand slam to right field to give the Red a 4-0 lead.
“At the plate I was just thinking that we needed to get ahead early, especially after losing the first game,” Batten recalled. “I just wanted to hit something up the middle and something hard. It happened to be an outside pitch that I took out.”
In the third inning, the Red used the long ball once again to extend its lead. After Batten singled to left, substitute senior Sarah Sinclair hit a screaming home run to left to give the team a 6-0 edge.
“Coach had the confidence in me, and I used that,” Sinclair said. “I had been struggling earlier and was swinging at everything. I just wanted to sit back and drive the ball.”
As if a six-run cushion weren’t enough, Cornell doubled its margin in the very next inning. After a Sweeney single and a sacrifice bunt, the Red had a runner at second with one out. Varde then reached on a throwing error by the third baseman, creating a first and third situation. Already up six, Hricenak executed a perfect suicide squeeze, during which the runner from third scored and everyone was safe.
Trout then lashed an RBI single. After a groundout, both Sinclair and Sheppard contributed with run-scoring doubles. To finish the scoring, senior Kelli Larsen blooped an RBI single.
With Zitarelli on the mound, the lead was in good hands. Zitarelli continued her strong pitching with five superb, shutout innings. She allowed just three hits, one walk and no runs over the five frames.
“Basically, we tried to stay away from their power,” Zitarelli said. “We had a tough time because the umpire had a smaller strike zone, but we tried not to give in to the hitters.”
After the weekend’s events, the Red is guaranteed at least a share of the Ivy title. Cornell stands atop the standings with a 11-3 mark while Dartmouth and Harvard are tied for second at 9-3. The Green and the Crimson square off against each other next week in a doubleheader. If either team should sweep, there would be a tie for the Ivy crown. However, the Red didn’t seem too concerned with all the scenarios yesterday afternoon.
“A title is a title,” Blood emphasized. “If we had dropped two today, we would’ve been pretty sore. We would’ve loved to win two, but we’ll take this right now.”
Several seniors on the team echoed his sentiments.
“[The championship] feels great,” Batten added. “Being a part of something like this is great. We should’ve won all of our games in the Ivy League because we’ve got the aggressiveness, the intensity and the athleticism to win it.
Zitarelli also expressed great joy in the victory.
“This is just as exciting [as the championship in 1999],” Zitarelli said. “But it is a little frustrating because we have to wait to find out what happens with Dartmouth and Harvard. It’d be great if we could go back to the NCAA’s.”
Now that its Ivy portion of the schedule is complete, the Red must take a wait-and-see approach. However, the season continues, and the team’s next opponent will be Ithaca College at Niemand-Robinson Field at Tuesday 4:00 pm.
Archived article by Alex Ip