With one weekend left in regular season play, it’s crunch time for Penn softball.
Currently tied with Cornell for the top spot in the Ivy League, Penn (27-15, 11-5 Ivy) plays Columbia (12-29, 6-10) this weekend for a chance to win its first division championship since 2007 and second in program history.
A sweep of the Lions would guarantee the Quakers at least a share of the division title. If Penn finishes the weekend tied with Cornell, a one-game playoff would decide the South Division representative in the Ivy League Championship Series.
But Penn should not focus its attention on records too intently — though Columbia sits at the bottom of the South division, its place in the standings does not tell the whole story.
As Penn coach Leslie King points out, the Lions’ situation is partially a function of how the divisions are configured.
“If they were in the North Division, they’d be in second place,” King said.
In the last five years, Penn has dominated Columbia with a 16-4 record against the Lions. However, Columbia managed to steal a win away from the Quakers last year, and this time, every game will count for Penn in its quest for a division title.
Columbia is the next challenge in a string of series that have tested Penn’s ability to play under pressure. With their pitching and hitting firing on all cylinders, the Red and Blue feel prepared for the Lions.
“The past couple of weeks we’ve really been playing more confidently … and I think we’re going to go in with the same mindset this weekend too,” sophomore Elysse Gorney said.
Penn has reason to feel confident. In recent weeks, the Quakers’ offense showed it has the firepower to back up ace pitcher Alexis Borden. After scoring 26 runs in their previous two series, the Quakers unloaded for 23 in half as many games against Cornell last weekend.
No matter how the offense is producing, however, the question of how many innings Borden will pitch remains. In four-game series against Princeton and Cornell, Borden appeared in the circle three times each weekend and picked up five wins in five decisions. Additionally, the Quakers won all six games that Borden pitched. In both games that Borden did not appear, Penn lost.
At this stage, the freshman’s importance to the team’s success is obvious.
“If you have someone you think is your ace, you’re just going to run with them as long as you can,” King said.
Columbia is coming off a split with Princeton last weekend in which its young pitching staff, led by freshmen Brooke Darling and Kalli Schultea, held the Tigers to three runs or fewer in three of four games.
Offensively, the Lions’ lineup features Emily Caruthers. The sophomore missed time earlier in the season with injuries, but has returned to the lineup and is hitting .400 on the season.
King anticipates that Columbia will not hand over a single victory — let alone a sweep — without a battle.
“I expect them to put up a really good fight against us,” King said. “They never give you anything.
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