May 2, 2007

Seniors Battaglia and Ruben Reflect on Years With Red

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When seniors Lauren Battaglia and Sarah Ruben found out that the Red had won the Ivy title in the spring of 2004, it was an emotional high for the stalwart members of Cornell’s softball team.
“Our freshman year,” Ruben said, “Harvard took the game from somebody and from the distance, we were at Penn, we saw Coach Blood sprinting toward the bus and everyone was like, ‘What the heck?’ He just ran on [the bus] and started crying and screaming.”
“And the whole team erupted,” Battaglia added. “That whole bus ride, that was seven hours of celebration.”
Though the team has fallen just short of topping the Ancient Eight in each of the three years since then, this season has meant even more to Battaglia and Ruben because they could realistically see the team winning it all.
“It’s nice to always be in contention [for the championship],” Battaglia said. “They’ve all been really exciting seasons, just to have a chance. This one was painful though. … We all felt we could have [won the championship].”
Though the potential of this year’s team set the bar higher for their expectations and made the end result harder to swallow, the seniors look back on this season as an especially positive experience.
“The other [years missing the title] were a slight sting and this one was more like a dagger,” Ruben said. “[But] I’m happy, and I think Lauren feels the same way, to have stayed for four years because this year in particular has probably been the most exciting and the most fun. The chemistry of the team was just amazing and they are a lot of good people to get to know and be around.”
Ruben and Battaglia are the last members left on the roster of a seven-member freshman class in 2004. Both seniors point to life lessons as the thing they will take from their time with Cornell softball.
“Softball is a rough sport sometimes,” Battaglia said. “Just learning to deal with [problems in softball] can really help you learn to deal with a lot [of problems in life]. We always talk about how softball is a game of failure, and sometimes in life you come up against some really hard things and you just have to keep going.”
It seems the two seniors made the right decision to keep going, since both are having their best seasons in their final year on the Hill.
Last year, Ruben had no errors in 144 chances. She also broke the team record for fewest passed balls in a season. This year, she has maintained her perfect fielding percentage, and of batters with more than five at bats, Ruben’s batting average is good for second on the team.
“Sarah has been a durable and dependable backstop,” said head coach Dick Blood. “She’s done a nice job handling our pitching staff and has handled adversity with great demeanor, adversity that she has experienced when she’s been slumping and whatnot, and she has handled success modestly … One of the things we talk about all the time is that she was proud to be a member of the club.”
Battaglia has gained momentum near the end of the season. She was named Ivy League Player of the Week on April 10 and made the weekly honor roll last week. Perhaps the most telling statistic, however, is that her batting average this season with runners in scoring position leads the team. Setting an example like this is just another part of her job as co-captain.
“It’ll be hard to replace [Battaglia],” Blood said. “Those kids don’t come along every day. I know Cornell is blessed with a lot of wonderful young people but some are quieter than others and some are bolder than others, and some are just determined leaders — she’s a determined leader.”
The first-baseman, catcher and second-baseman has been a jack-of-all trades for the Red, playing wherever she was needed. She has also been so valuable in reviving the team’s offense that picking her greatest contribution to the team was difficult for Blood to narrow down.
“I’d like to say that it’s been her offense or her defense,” Blood said. “But her leadership has been a breath of fresh air. She’s a very strong leader, leads not only by example but she’s also a vocal leader too. She generally has the right things to say, and she’s done it the right way for four years. She hasn’t just moved into that position. She’s earned that spot.”
As one of the team’s leaders, it has fallen on Battaglia to mentor the many rookies this year as they adjusted to collegiate softball.
“I guess my advice would be to have confidence in yourself,” Battaglia said. “It really comes down to the idea that if you don’t have confidence in yourself then nobody else will.”
From the beginning of this season, when the Red started the year with a twelve-game winning streak, the team hasn’t had much reason to lack confidence. In fact, the best memory for the seniors came this year when the team faced Harvard, who ended up winning a spot in the Ivy Championships by leading the North Division. But on that day, the Red swept the Crimson.
In the first game of the doubleheader on April 8 held in Providence, R.I. due to inclement weather, the Crimson held a 5-0 lead going into the bottom of the third inning. Battaglia led off with a walk and was the first to cross the plate for the Red, driven in by freshman Elise Menaker’s three-run homer.
When the senior got on base again by way of a double in the sixth, freshman Devon March sent her home to bring the Red within two. Cornell’s eventual 9-8 victory highlighted the joint efforts of the team’s veterans and rookies.
“Harvard was a huge test for us, particularly because of what a young team we are,” Battaglia said. “After being down by so much the whole game, to come back like that was definitely my proudest moment in Big Red softball. I remember I came around and scored on a hit during our big sixth inning comeback and the way the dugout erupted and the intensity in everyone’s eyes, I knew that we were going to do it. [We were going to] win that game. Then to finish out the day and battle out a win in the second game just made it complete. It was amazing. After that game, I felt like this team could do anything.”