April 23, 2004

Softball Heads to Princeton and Penn in Search of Wins

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With only two Ivy League games remaining in the softball team’s regular season, conventional wisdom would say that the 2004 league champion must already be somewhat decided. Yet, as Cornell’s quest for the Ivy title leads it to the fields of Penn and Princeton this weekend, it is clear that neither the streaking Red nor the defending champ Tigers have a stranglehold on that championship banner.

In fact, an uncanny amount of league parity has given six squads in the Ancient Eight equal positioning to snatch the title going into one of the last weekends of Ivy match-ups.

Yet, according to the Red, there is only one true heir to the throne.

“This weekend are must-win games,” said junior shortstop Lauren May. “We just need to do our job and hope that everything else falls into place.”

After systematically dismantling renowned Big East opponent Syracuse in two come-from-behind victories yesterday, the Red (29-11, 6-4 Ivy) feels prepared for any challenge that may lie ahead. With power hitters Lauren May and Kate Varde cranking out runs and RBIs with the efficiency of an automated machine and pitchers Sarah Sterman and Whitney Smith consistently stupefying batters with clutch throws from the mound, head coach Dick Blood knows his team is in good position to challenge for the league title. The last time the Red won the Ivy championship outright was in 1999.

“This year we have a bunch of solid freshmen and a solid senior core, which is similar to the team we had in 1999,” Blood said. “The league is very competitive this year, but we have a tough ball club.”

The race to overthrow two-time defending champion Princeton is tightly packed, convoluted, and with no certain outcome at this point. Cornell and Princeton (20-16, 6-4) are tied for fourth place in league heading into this weekend, yet both teams are just one game behind leader Yale (26-16, 6-2). Columbia (19-24, 4-6), who also plays the Tigers this weekend, resides in fifth place at three games back while the other squads in the running, Brown and Harvard, have league games to play both this weekend and next weekend. As a result, the final champion likely will not be decided until the end of next weekend.

“Between seventh and second place there is only one game separating the teams,” Blood said. “We need to win four games this weekend.”

No matter what the eventual outcome, the Red still has the business of winning to take of. Cornell will head to New Jersey first to take on the defending champion Tigers in a doubleheader at 1895 Field set to begin at 1 p.m. tomorrow. Princeton has been on a short hot streak of late, winning their four of their last five outings after dropping the previous three. The Tigers’ main strength has been their pitching, as team leaders Erin Snyder (9-10, 1.51 ERA) and Melissa Finley (5-5, 1.86 ERA) have combined to strike out 190 batters in 34 appearances. Princeton is second in the Ivy League with a team ERA of 1.75.

“Princeton is a very formidable ball club,” Blood said. “Their pitching is great throughout.”

Yet, the Tigers would not be 14-time Ivy champions if they could not produce runs in the batters box as well. This season, pitcher Finley has been terrorizing opposing pitchers just as often as she manhandles opposing batters, having belted six home runs and notched a team-leading 21 RBIs. The uber-athlete out of London, Ont. has also accumulated a .308 batting average. Finley is protected in the lineup by California native Kristin Lueke, whose 36 hits (.295 BA) are the most by any Tigers hitter.

Despite of these glowing statistics, the Red is treating the game at 1895 just like any other. “We just need to win each game at a time,” May said. “We’re pretty confident that we can beat Princeton. Anyone can beat any other team in this league on any given day.”

Penn (10-26, 1-9) will not present quite the same challenge as Princeton, yet the Red will still be on the lookout for senior slugger Erin O’Brien, whose four home runs and 16 RBIs have provided the backbone of the Quakers’ offense. Cornell will also likely see rookie Lindsey Permar (7-10), who leads Penn throwers with a 2.62 ERA and has recorded 106 strikeouts. The Quakers are 2-10 when playing at Warren Field.

Yet, rather than worry about the critical nature of the upcoming games, the players on the Red are quick to brush off the perceived pressure.

“We’re pretty psyched because these are our biggest games of the season,” said left fielder Melissa Cannon. “But we need to keep a cool demeanor. Everyone knows how important these games are.”

Archived article by Kyle Sheahen
Sun Assistant Sports Editor