April 25, 2003

Softball Tries to Remain In Hunt for Ivy Crown

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The softball team heads into its final league weekend with high hopes and crossed fingers, eyeing an Ivy League title that is now within its grasp. In order for the Red (24-6, 7-3 Ivy) to actually take hold of the crown, however, it will first have to slip through the hands of current Ivy leader Princeton (18-4-1, 8-1-1).

Cornell will host Yale (16-20, 4-4) tomorrow and Brown (13-15, 4-3) the following day. With a sweep of both doubleheaders and a two-loss weekend for the Tigers, who will face Harvard and Dartmouth, the Red will claim its second title in three years.

“There’s no doubt the title is an issue on our minds this weekend,” said head coach Dick Blood, “but we’re going to need a lot of help. All we can do is go out and take care of our business.”

Taking care of business is something which Cornell unfortunately failed to do a week ago. With first place on the line, the Red faltered against Princeton last Friday, getting swept by the Tigers while committing an uncharacteristic three errors and allowing six home runs.

The Red did bounce back the following day, as junior Sarah Sterman pitched the second no-hitter in program history, also the second this season, leading her team to a sweep of cellar-dwellars Penn. Sterman and the freshman tandem of Kristen Landis and Whitney Smith, will share the four starts this weekend.

“We’ll run all three of our pitchers this weekend,” affirmed Blood. “We’re going to once again look to work ahead in the count and out of the strike zone.”

Cornell’s power trip at the plate also continued over the past four games and will be a major factor in this weekend’s contests. Ivy League Player of the Week sophomore Lauren May upped her slugging percentage to .933, with a 10-for-19 week and three home runs, to claim the league lead in the category with 10.

Junior Kate Varde also continued her dominance and now leads her team in batting average (.473), RBI (32), total bases (72), and doubles (12).

As for the Red’s opponents on this crucial weekend, Blood feels that his team matches up rather closely with the Bulldogs and Bears.

“They’re both solid offensive clubs, with above average pitching. They’re similar to Cornell, though we probably have the edge in power at the plate,” he said.

Yale is an aggressive offensive team, which has recently been rolling at the plate. After hitting just four long balls all season, the Bulldogs have hit five in their last six games.

Leading the charge for Yale is undoubtedly batting juggernaut Jesseka Bartholomew. The senior has only struck out once in her 117 at-bats this season, and claims a .342 batting average. She recently tied the Yale record for career doubles (34) and will undoubtedly look to end her tenure with a bang.

Other Yale sluggers to look for include league performers Laura Beckert (.320) and Kristy Kwiatkowski (.333).

Yale currently leads the Ivy League in triples with 14 — Cornell is second with just four — and is also tops in stolen bases with 42.

“They’ve certainly got some sticks, particularly that of Bartholomew. We’ll have to be tough against them from the mound,” said Blood.

Yale’s pitching staff is also near the top of the Ivies, currently maintaining a 2.13 ERA and a 16-20 overall record.

Brown is a feisty team, which often rallies from behind to steal games from its Ivy opponents. Last weekend saw the Bears achieve two such heists at the hands of Dartmouth and Harvard.

Brown’s hottest arm is Marissa Berkes, who claimed both victories for the Bears last weekend, upping her season mark to 6-7. In 14 complete innings over the two days, Berkes struck out nine while not allowing a single walk.

At the plate, the Bears boast an impressive trio of Jaimie Wirkowski, Laura Leonetti, and Kathryne Tone. All three are currently riding above-.350 averages and should present a challenge for Cornell’s trio of starters.

“They’ll put pressure on us right away, they’re that type of team,” said Blood of Brown. “They’re also a speedy team and should cause some trouble on the bases.”

While the Bears and Bulldogs each present a unique challenge for this team on a mission, one of Cornell’s biggest enemies this season once again reared its ugly head this week. A cancelled doubleheader against Syracuse on Wednesday, increased the Red’s total number of postponed games to 16. The lack of midweek buffers has hindered Cornell the entire season.

“It’s something I think about every day and I imagine it’s very hard for the players to get up for so many games and then not play,” said Blood.

However, such distractions are just part of the landscape at this point and the Red has a much more important focus on which to turn its collective eye. Four wins, a little help, and maybe a championship to top off a brilliant run.

“We’re thinking about each game individually, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. If we can concentrate on a single game at a time, we’ll allow for good things to happen,” finished Blood.

Archived article by Scott Jones