As South Division play of Ivy League softball opens for Penn this weekend, the Quakers have an opportunity to set the pace for the rest of the season.
Last year, the Red and Blue swept Princeton in a four-game series, catapulting the team into the race for a playoff spot after a tumultuous start to league play. If the Quakers (20-13, 5-3 Ivy) can repeat the feat this weekend in back-to-back doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday, they can again assert themselves as a serious contender for an Ancient Eight title.
Though the Tigers (11-20, 5-3) have struggled this season, they opened up league competition by winning five out of eight games — good enough to tie Penn for second place in the South Division.
“We’re in for a tough battle [against Princeton]. They’ve performed a lot better in league this year,” coach Leslie King said. “They’re coming into our series a little bit more confident than they have in the last couple of years, so we’re going to have to play real well.”
Princeton is led by pitcher Liza Kuhn, who earned Ivy League Pitcher of the Week honors for posting 28 strikeouts in three appearances last week. The Tigers won three of four games last weekend, sweeping Yale and beating Brown in the first game of a doubleheader before dropping an 11-inning pitcher’s duel to the Bears, 2-1.
Meanwhile, the Quakers struggled on the road last weekend, splitting with Dartmouth before being swept by a surging Harvard squad. Penn can reverse its momentum against Princeton, a team the Red and Blue have dominated in the past three years to the tune of a 10-2 record.
A cursory glance at the Ivy League softball standings is all that is necessary to realize the challenge facing South Division teams. While Harvard sits comfortably ahead of three teams with losing records in the North Division, including the 1-7 Yale and Dartmouth squads, three of the four South Division teams are at least two games above .500.
In the North Division, Penn’s 5-3 record would put the team alone in second place. But as it currently stands in the South Division, the Quakers are tied for second with Princeton and sit two games behind first-place Cornell.
However, King recognizes that it is too early to pass judgment on the abilities of the Ivy teams based on their win-loss records.
“The parity in the league is so strong that the records might not be completely indicative of how strong a team may or may not be,” King said.
On offense, the Quakers have been successful putting runners on base this season, ranking second in the Ivy League in OBP at .342. But the Red and Blue are in need of some timely hitting in order to capitalize on opportunities with runners on base.
On the whole, the most tense and crucial moments of this weekend’s games may be where Penn can make its mark.
“That’s the big thing: it’s the team that can come up with the clutch hit, make a big defensive play,” King said. “That can change the momentum of the game, and things go your way then.”