History was in the making, and everyone seemed to realize it—that is, except for the person making it.
As Penn softball ace Alexis Borden churned out inning after inning of flawless pitching, nearly everyone in attendance began to realize that she was approaching a hallowed feat: the perfect game. However, in accordance with superstition, no one informed Borden of what was at stake.
“I didn’t really know until the sixth [inning]. I was more concentrated on winning,” Borden said.
In a one-game playoff against Cornell for the Ivy League South Division title, the freshman phenom pitched a perfect game, the first ever recorded in Penn softball history, and the Quakers captured the Ivy League South Division Championship with a 4-0 victory over the Big Red.
Two weeks ago, Penn (33-15, 16-5 Ivy) took three out of four games against Cornell (25-23, 15-6). In their sole loss in that series, the Big Red’s Alyson Onyon held the Quakers scoreless in a complete game shutout. Not surprisingly, Onyon started for Cornell on Saturday, but this time around, Penn had a gameplan for how to approach the pitcher.
The Quakers knew Onyon preferred to pitch outside to their team and avoid putting the ball in the middle or inside, where many of Penn’s hitters are at their best. As such, the Red and Blue looked to hit opposite field when necessary.
In the third inning, freshman Sydney Turchin hit opposite field and picked up a single to right for the second time of the game. Elysse Gorney followed by dropping down a bunt that moved Turchin to second. The left fielder then advanced to third base on an illegal pitch call against Onyon.
With Kayla Dahlerbruch up to bat, Penn made its move, calling for a suicide squeeze. Dahlerbruch successfully laid down the bunt, and a charging Onyon was too late to the ball to stop Turchin from scoring. The run put Penn up 1-0 and gave the Red and Blue the lead for good.
The Quakers would not score again until the sixth inning. With the bases loaded and two out, Gorney came to the plate with a chance to throw a knockout punch. Based on her previous at bats, Gorney knew what to expect.
“She threw me outside every single pitch this game, so I was already thinking outside pitch,” Gorney said.
With this in mind, the sophomore from Orlando, Fla. drove an outside fastball into the gap in left-centerfield for a three-run double.
Of course, four runs was more than enough for Borden and her perfect performance. However, the perfect game came as a result of not only Borden’s pitching, but also Penn’s defensive efforts.
No defensive play on the day was more spectacular than Stephanie Caso’s leaping grab in the third inning, as she snagged a line drive out of the air and kept the perfect game intact.
Caso later followed that highlight reel play with another crucial defensive stop, knocking down a hard ground ball with her body before making the throw in time to get the out.
In the circle, Borden used a deadly combination of fastballs and changeups to keep Cornell off balance the entire game. After getting ahead in the count, the freshman pitcher could follow with either pitch, which disrupted the Big Red’s timing at the plate.
“She was phenomenal,” King said. “She was in command from the very first pitch of the game.”
Penn’s box score is unusual for a perfect game, as it includes an error.
However, the error came off a dropped foul ball, and since that Cornell hitter did not reach base, the title of “perfect game” still holds.
The last out of the game came on a fly ball to left field foul territory. As Turchin made the catch, cheers erupted from the players and crowd, and gloves soared into the air. Shortly thereafter, the coolers were brought out, and the players doused coach Leslie King with the coolers’ contents.
In addition to her praise of the team’s hard work and lively personalities, King expressed her excitement for the team to prepare for the upcoming Ivy championship series, especially with the academic year behind the team.
“It’s going to be like being a pro team: just practicing and playing,” King said.
With the division title under their belts, the Red and Blue advance to the Ivy League Championship Series for the first time since 2007. If the Quakers manage to defeat Harvard, they would secure just the second Ivy League championship in program history and the first since 1981.
In Gorney’s mind, Penn could not be more ready to take on their biggest challenge of the season yet.
“We’re just ready to play and ready to prove Harvard wrong,” Gorney said.
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