When the Penn softball team takes the field for Senior Day and its last series of the regular season, its title hopes will still be alive.
The Quakers (17-21, 10-6 Ivy) will play their first of two doubleheaders against Columbia tomorrow afternoon at Warren Field. The series will conclude Saturday in New York.
Trailing division leader Cornell by four games, Penn can clinch a division crown only if it sweeps Columbia (11-30, 2-14), and Princeton sweeps Cornell.
That may be a lot of ‘ifs,’ but the players aren’t taking any chances and will do everything they can to — as senior Susan Miller put it — “stay focused and play to our potential” to keep their title chances alive.
“We can’t control what Cornell does,” coach Leslie King said. “But as long as there is a glimmer of hope for us, these girls are going to go out there and play our very best softball for that hope.”
If the past few years are any indicator, the Quakers just may have a good chance of taking all four from the Lions, who have the lowest conference record and are coming off an 18-5 thrashing by Cornell. Penn has taken 11 of the last 12 contests against Columbia, with the only loss coming in extra innings.
In order for Penn to continue its winning ways against Columbia, the Quakers will need to shut down the Lions’ potent offense. The Columbia attack, currently second in the league in batting average, is led by sophomore Kayla Lechler, who ranks in the top four in the Ancient Eight in batting average, runs and hits.
The Red and Blue are preparing hard for Lechler, who has a career .357 batting average against them.
“We see what pitches she hit or couldn’t last year, and see what we can do against her,” King said. “We know we have to pitch to her with respect, and our pitchers are going to have to hit their spots to be successful against her.”
The Lions, on the other hand, are going to have to prepare just as diligently for an underclassman Penn star.
Freshman Brooke Coloma earned both Ivy Player and Rookie of the Week honors after hitting .400, driving in three homers and batting in seven runs against Princeton.
“If they give her strikes, she can drive a ball with the best of ‘em,” King said.
Yet while a pair of underclassmen may head the offensive battle, it is the seniors who will be playing with a little extra emotion on Friday.
“There is always kind of a little more excitement with senior day,” Miller said. “It is a last motivating push for everyone, so we always play them competitively.”
Senior Day will mark the last home games for first baseman Miller and outfielder Keiko Uraguchi.
“Both have been not just good ball players but very good leaders for this team,” King said. “They bring a lot to our program, and we are definitely going to miss their leadership and sense of humor.”
Thus, there is something else the Quakers will be playing for even if Cornell does clinch the title with a win early in the weekend.
“We want our seniors to go out on a high note,” King said, “and that’s motivation enough for this team.”
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