March 28, 2008

Red Hosts Defending Ivy Champ in Ancient Eight Debut

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In 2004, softball head coach Dick Blood led the Red to a 42-13 record (10-4 Ivy) en route to Cornell’s third conference crown, all coming in the six seasons from 1999 to 2004. Since then, the Red have finished second three consecutive seasons, but this weekend it will have another chance to get back to the top as it opens the conference schedule with doubleheaders against Harvard and Dartmouth.
The Red (16-6) will enter the weekend coming off of last week’s Spring Break trip to Florida, where it played 16 games in eight days. The Red won’t get a break, however, as its Ivy opener is against Harvard (7-12), the defending conference champions.
So far this season, the Crimson has traveled to three tournaments and played five additional games, similar to the Red’s three tournaments and Rebel Spring games swing. Harvard got out to an extremely slow start, dropping all five of its contests at the San Diego Classic — losing four of them by at least six runs and scoring only two runs throughout the entire tournament.
[img_assist|nid=29203|title=Gettin dirty|desc=Though Harvard and Dartmouth have both struggled in non-conference play, junior Jessy Berkey (above) and the softball team does not underestimate the Ivy foes it will face this weekend.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
The Crimson followed up the weak showing in San Diego by losing its next three games en route to finishing 1-4 at the Blue & Gold Felsberg Memorial, hosted by Florida International. The team’s sole win came in a 2-0 victory over the host, which beat the Crimson 13-1 the previous day. Senior pitcher Shelly Madick threw a four-hit shutout to give the Crimson its first win of the year.
Since beating FIU to erase the goose egg in the win column, Harvard has gone 7-4, including a 3-1 performance at the Mercer Easter Classic last weekend. Despite the slow start in the first two out-of-conference tournaments, Harvard remains the team to beat in Ivy League competition.
“Well, Harvard’s the Ivy League champion, so I guess that answers that,” Blood said when asked what he expects to see from Harvard tomorrow. “They didn’t graduate any starters, and they’ll be ready to go. They’ll be ready for us. We’re hoping for good weather and solid pitching, and hopefully we’ll contain their big bats. They have [sophomore Lauren] Murphy, who had 18 home runs last year — we’ve got to keep her in the ballpark, along with the rest of the team. They hit better than we did on the spring trip, but we’ll see.”
Harvard will be led by Murphy, who already has four home runs in just 43 at bats and hit two homers the last time she faced Cornell. Despite Murphy’s efforts at the plate, the Red swept last year’s doubleheader against the Crimson, winning 9-8 and 6-4. This year, Cornell will be looking for a repeat performance.
“[Harvard isn’t] going to be an easy team, certainly, so we’re going to have to play our best regardless of what they give us,” said senior pitcher Jenn Meunier.
On Sunday, the Red will face off with another Ivy foe that had a shaky non-conference start to the season. Like its opponent, Dartmouth (4-10) has played in three tournaments, traveling to Tennessee, Florida and Long Island where they won at least one contest at each location but never did better than its 2-2 finish at the Stony Brook tournament. The Green is riding a three-game losing streak in which it has been outscored 17-0.
In last year’s matchup between the Ivy North runner up (Dartmouth) and the Ivy South runner up, Cornell swept Dartmouth, winning 7-2 and 9-0. In the first game of the double header, Meunier pitched a complete game, allowing two runs white striking out seven.
“Dartmouth is very solid,” Blood said. “They returned their entire pitching staff and picked up a fresh pitcher from California. They’re a very good ball club, and they’ll be ready for battle.”