April 25, 2008

Softball Takes On Fellow No. 1 Princeton

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When does a team on a 20-game win streak get so antsy in anticipation of its next games that its players lose sleep days in advance? When those upcoming games will make or break its season.
“I don’t think any of us have been able to go to bed at night without thinking about it,” said sophomore Elise Menaker. “We’ve been waiting for this all season.”
What they’ve been waiting for is the four-game series with Princeton scheduled to begin today. The Cornell softball team (37-7, 15-1 Ivy) will challenge Princeton (20-21, 15-1) in a four-game series with the Ivy League’s South division title on the line. The winner of the South division will finish with the best regular season record in the conference and will have the opportunity to battle Harvard for the conference crown. Harvard (21-18, 12-4) has clinched the North division.
Today at 12:30, the Tigers will be at Niemand-Robison Softball Field to face the hosting Red in a doubleheader. On Sunday, both teams will be in New Jersey to play two more games. If either team wins at least three of the games, that team will win the South division. If the teams split the four games, they will play a tiebreaker Monday on Princeton’s Class of 1895 Field. Princeton would host the game because they beat North division winner Harvard, a team Cornell did not face this season.[img_assist|nid=30216|title=Spirit fingers|desc=Alyson Intihar (10) throws to first during the Red’s matchup with Columbia last weekend. The team could clinch the South Division title this weekend.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“I really think we’re preparing like this is any other weekend, but at the same time, we are obviously putting the extra focus and effort in because it’s all or nothing,” Menaker said. “In your mind, you know you have to step the level of play up.”
Senior Jenn Meunier will be on the mound in today’s first game for the Red. Freshman Ali Tomlinson is penciled in as the starter for Game 2. Fellow rookie Elizabeth Dalrymple will be the primary relief pitcher available in both games.
“We need to continue to hit the way we’ve bee hitting and keep Princeton’s big hitters in the ball yard,” said head coach Dick Blood.
As high as the stakes are, it should not take much for Blood to motivate his team.
“I don’t have any words of magic,” he said. “We need to play solid softball, play with confidence, and defend well. These are like championship games for us.”
The Red has had mixed results against the Tigers in recent seasons. The teams split a similar four game series last season, although the situation was different as the Red needed to win three games to tie for the best record in the division. In 2005 and 2006, the teams met for two games in each season. Princeton swept in ’05 and the teams split in ’06.
None of that matters now, though. Nor does the 20-game win streak Cornell has put together. If the Red falters this weekend, the winning streak will soon be forgotten and the team will have another year to ponder how it could fall just short once again — the Red has finished in second each of the last three seasons. However, if Cornell can continue grind out victories, the Red will have an opportunity to capture the Ivy League title for the first time since it earned a share of the conference title in 2004.
“We’re very lucky to have this opportunity at the end of the season,” Menaker said.
It’s time to find out if they can capitalize.