After ascending to the top of the Ivy League standings last weekend, the Penn softball team now looks to improve its position in the Big 5.
Armed with hot bats and a well-rounded pitching rotation, the Quakers (17-13, 0-2 Big 5) will take on Villanova (14-20, 2-2) Thursday night at Penn Park.
The squads last met in early March at the Central Florida Spring Fling Tournament, in which the Wildcats downed Penn, 7-1. But with the Quakers riding a four-game win streak, Villanova will face a much different team than last month’s Penn squad.
Though the Quakers’ offense struggled in the early going of the season, last weekend Penn’s offense scored at least six runs in all four of its games, in large part due to an offensive outburst from shortstop Stephanie Caso.
The senior logged eight hits in 13 at-bats. Her performance helped Penn sweep Yale and Brown on the road and earned her Ivy League Player of the Week honors.
Meanwhile, senior Brooke Coloma made history by becoming Penn’s all-time RBI leader, as she tallied her 109th career RBI against the Bears.
By contrast, the Wildcats have seen their early successes rapidly fade into the rearview mirror, as Villanova has won just three of its last 15 games. However, many of those losses have come against Big East opponents, including three losses to Georgetown and two to Notre Dame.
Though the teams are moving in opposite directions, Penn coach Leslie King expects a competitive game between the two Big 5 squads.
“They are a very strong team. They’re a Big East program,” King said. “They’re going to give us a really good challenge.”
For Penn, the game represents a midweek nonconference matchup, sandwiched between two weekends packed with four Ivy League games apiece. With the weekend’s doubleheaders against Princeton on the horizon, King will treat Thursday’s contest as an opportunity to prepare the squad for the weekend.
“Our goal is definitely … playing well in league play,” King said. “That might mean giving someone who doesn’t get necessarily a lot of playing time some opportunities in case we have an injury, or giving pitchers innings to prepare for the weekend.”
While fatigue is a concern for the squad when playing midweek games, the emergence of freshman Lauren Li and senior Lindsay Mann as reliable pitching options can help to keep sophomore Alexis Borden fresh. Though Borden remains the team’s undisputed ace, Li and Mann are a combined 9-3, giving the Quakers a chance to win even when Borden isn’t in the circle.
“Both Lindsay and Lauren have really stepped up and allowed us to eat up innings with their arms, and that’s been really helpful,” King said.
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