April 24, 2009

Softball Looks for Revenge Against Tigers

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After having to wait a year to avenge heartbreaking defeat last April, the softball team will finally step up to the plate against Princeton today at 12:30 p.m. for the Tigers’ final home games of the season. The Ivy League South Division Champs (34-10, 13-3 Ivy) will then return to Ithaca, with Princeton (14-18, 8-8) trailing behind them, to celebrate their own Senior Day doubleheader on Niemand-Robison Field this Sunday.
Because Cornell and Princeton are travel partners, the four-game series is divided between the two venues.
“Playing half of the games at Princeton and the other half at home makes it interesting,” said junior second baseman Devon March, “It is kind of fun going back and forth. These games are very important. Therefore, we don’t mind traveling for the first part of the series in order to get the last two games in Ithaca. We are just excited to get another chance against them after losing last year.”
Unlike last spring, when the Cornell-Princeton face-off determined the winner of the division and a league championship berth, the Red will enter the matchup already having been crowned.[img_assist|nid=37182|title=The wind-up|desc=Junior Elise Menaker winds up in the Red’s 10-0 win over Ithaca College on Wednesday.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“We were all ecstatic after clinching the title,” said senior right-fielder Jessy Berkey, “Princeton has taken it out from underneath us for the last three years. We are very much playing for pride, revenge, and getting the most out of Princeton. They left a bitter taste in our mouths after our last encounter, so the returners, in particular, want to come out of the weekend content and ready for postseason play.”
With the South Ivy title tucked safely under its belt, the Red will have less pressure going into today’s meeting with the Tigers.
“Traditionally, the deciding game of the division championship comes down to the final series of the season,” said Berkey, “Senior day is typically stressful, but this year we will be able to enjoy the day with the team without having to worry about a title on the line.”
However, there remains strong incentive to make the most of the regular season finale.
Whether or not the Red will host the Ivy League Championships next weekend rides on its performance today and Sunday. Cornell is currently two games ahead of North Division leader Dartmouth, which is scheduled to play Harvard this weekend. The Red needs at least a split with Princeton to ensure a home field advantage.
In addition to hosting rights, Cornell will look to play for the veterans of the squad this weekend. Sunday’s doubleheader will honor Red seniors Berkey, Nicole Cheever, Meg Risica, and Jaime Tupino, who are all approaching the end of their fourth varsity season with the program. Finishing their collegiate softball careers at home will certainly be special for the four soon-to-be graduates.
“Playing at home on Sunday will be sentimental, but we are hoping and looking forward to hosting the Ivy Championships,” said Berkey, “Even though it probably won’t be our last time on the field this spring, it’s sill going to be nice to be honored and have the ceremony here.”
Despite its extremely positive outlook, Cornell will not take its future contests without a fight.
“Princeton has a very good hitting lineup,” said March, “We will need to score a lot of runs to support our pitchers.”
Princeton senior Kathryn Welch will try to make a statement this weekend and make her way into the Tiger’s record book. Welch’s season .402 and career .353 hitting percentages, as well as her extra-base hit and RBI totals, put her in position to leave a mark in Princeton softball history.
But the numbers Welch has put up do not faze Berkey.
“We are not going to treat her differently from the rest of the lineup,” said Berkey, “Princeton has several good players. We will obviously be careful what we throw to her, but we won’t put a huge target on her back.”
Statistics alone validate the Red’s first-place standing among the Ivies. Cornell holds the best team batting average in the league at .329 with junior Ashley Garvey hitting .425. The Red pitching staff leads the Ivy League with a combined ERA of 2.00. From the mound, sophomore starters Elizabeth Dalrymple (15-3) and Ali Tomlinson (14-5) are throwing 1.23 and 2.42, respectively.
“As a team, we have gained confidence with each game,” said March, “We believe in ourselves and in each other. We know we can get the job done.”
March is a key part of the all-junior infield, which also includes third baseman Elise Menaker, shortstop Alyson Intihar, and first baseman Garvey. In its upcoming competitions, the Red will rely on this core group of players to stay composed.
“We have a lot of experience playing together and we all trust one another,” said March.
The Red comes back to Cornell this evening and will likely gather again tomorrow morning for what Berkey calls a “nut and bolts” practice. A banquet dinner in recognition of the senior class and the end of the regular season will help to keep the team focused the night before the Sunday twinbill.
“Our heads are in the right place,” said Berkey, “We are playing calm, poised, and confident. The team moral is better than ever and we are really excited to continue playing the way we have been playing. We can only expect good things to come out of this trend.”