April 4, 2007

Sophomores Make Impact for Softball

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Freshman Alyson Intihar’s selection yesterday as Ivy League Rookie of the Week represents the ascendancy of the Red’s freshman class in accounting for a large chunk of the squad’s offensive production. This dominance at the plate by rookies, however, isn’t anything new for the Red.

“[This year’s freshman class and last year’s freshman class are] actually quite similar,” said senior co-captain Lauren Battaglia. “They both came out and made an immediate impact.”
[img_assist|nid=22521|title=Bring the heat, meat.|desc=Sophomore Jess Berkey prepares to swing in a game against Syracuse on April 19, 2006. Berkey is one of three sophomores who have made key offensive contributions to the softball team this season.|link=node|align=left|width=100|height=72]

Though they have been overshadowed by the success of their younger teammates, sophomores Meghan Risica, Jess Berkey and Nicole Cheever have quietly made key contributions at the plate this season.

“[Risica is really good at] setting a tone for the team in terms of intensity,” Battaglia said.

The left fielder is batting .253 with 13 runs, 2 home runs and 13 RBI — five of which came this past weekend. When the team was struggling at the plate against Yale on Saturday, it was Battaglia who sparked a Red comeback.

In the top of the fifth inning, neither team had scored since Yale jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the first. But Risica gave some life to the Red’s offense with a leadoff triple down the right field line. She then scored the game-tying run on a sacrifice fly by Battaglia.

“She really got us going and made us feel more comfortable about the team and about Ivy League play,” Battaglia said.

The co-captain went on to say that Risica’s clutch performance in the first game provided the team with the momentum it needed going into the second game — a 13-3 victory in which Risica starred. The sophomore recorded the first grand slam of her career by sending the ball 40 feet over the left field fence in the first inning, finishing the contest with a game-high five RBI.

“It’s a great feeling. You can feel [that it’s a home run] once the ball hits the bat,” she said. “I’ve been struggling with consistency over the past few weeks, and it seems like I was seeing the ball a lot better and getting better contact [this past weekend].”

Fellow sophomore Cheever is also a solid presence at the plate. The catcher is batting .179 in limited at bats this season while sharing time at the position with several other players.

“[Cheever is] really steady, a really dependable player,” Battaglia said.

Cheever hit a home run against Lipscomb on March 23, tying the game in the third inning and setting the stage for her fellow sophomores. Risica proceeded to launch a two-run shot with two outs in the fourth and Berkey followed that up by driving in the game-winning runs in the sixth.

Berkey is also an integral part of the Red’s offense this year. She is batting .280 as the designated hitter, with 14 runs and 10 RBI.

“[Berkey is] really aggressive and really tenacious at the plate,” Battaglia said.

After starting in 45 games last year, the outfielder finished the season with a batting average of .323, good enough for second place on the team. She also hit six home runs, one of which gave the Red an emotional 3-2 victory over Ivy rival Princeton on April 16.

“Last year I established myself as a hitter,” Berkey said. “Now that I’ve made the adjustment into Division I play, I can [work on becoming] more confident as a hitter.”

Berkey’s role has changed a little this year, switching over to designated hitter, but her goal of becoming a more “constant threat” in the lineup remains the same.

“I don’t play the numbers game,” Berkey said. “Because once you start with that, it gets in your head and throws you off. So I just try to contribute to our team goal of winning an Ivy League championship.”

Though Risica says there is absolutely no rivalry between them, Intihar is most likely her biggest competition in defending her 2006 Ivy League home run title. In fact, Risica considers one of her most important roles on the team now to be a mentor to the new players.

“[The sophomores are] more mature and thoughtful players this year. They really think through the game,” Battaglia said. “They’re a lot more vocal. They’re leaders on the team already — and they’re just sophomores.”