It’s never easy to be at the top.
This weekend, Penn softball travels to Ithaca, N.Y. to take on Ivy South rival Cornell in a series that the Quakers hope will help secure their top Ivy ranking.
The Red and Blue (21-15, 10-2 Ivy) know they have a target on their backs heading into the home of the Big Red (16-20, 6-6) not only because of their ranking, but also because of recent history.
Last year on Cinco de Mayo, sophomore Alexis Borden ended Cornell’s playoff hopes by pitching a perfect game, solidifying her status as Ivy League Rookie of the Year and taking Penn to the championship game against Harvard.
Cornell will not soon forget that embarrassing loss. With the advantage of being at home, the Big Red to crush the surging Quakers.
There are interesting perks about Cornell’s home-field, mainly that the entire field is turf, except for the Circle. This configuration poses challenges on the infield, even for a Penn defense ranked 35th overall in fielding percentage.
The turf causes the ball to pop up in different ways and changes a batter’s approach to hitting. Cornell’s experienced infield has an advantage reading balls of the turf.
“We want to learn about the conditions up there and see if we can practice those types of pops off of our field,” senior catcher Jessica Arneson said. “Our outfield is stellar and if our infield can handle what type of bounces they’ll be getting, we should be in good shape.”
Interestingly enough, no senior on the Penn squad has actually played in the Cornell diamond.
“We actually had to play away two years ago because their field was snowed under,” Arneson said.
It’s up to coach Leslie King to prepare her troops heading into this battle with Cornell.
King has been pleased with her team’s ability to make critical plays, as evidenced last weekend in a narrow 10-9 victory over Princeton.
But despite her team’s success in the clutch, King recognizes the difficulty of playing the Big Red on their home field .
“Going up to Cornell is gonna be tough. It’s a very tough venue to play at,” King said. “It’s tough anytime you play on the road, four games, up in a hostile environment — it’s going to be a tough, tough weekend.”
The coach seems to be making the right moves in preparing for this weekend’s bout with the Big Red, as she rested her starters in a 3-2 victory over Drexel Wednesday to provide depth to her pitching rotation.
This game not only saw the end of a nasty three game non-conference losing streak, but also gave the deeper parts of the Quakers bench some game-time experience.
This weekend marks a crucial stepping stone for the Red and Blue, who are in prime position to make a deep playoff run.
Players like senior outfielders Brooke Coloma and Jessica Melendez must get the bats going quickly for Penn to get a lead.
All too often in sports, teams that are at the top can be upset by ‘weaker’ opponents.
But for King, the Quakers have one thing on their mind this weekend: Do or Die.
“When you get backed down in the last few weekends of Ivy play, you do what you gotta do.”
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