There’s something about winning a championship that evokes the deepest emotions from players and fans, winners and losers alike. It’s the feeling of pure heartbreak for one side and jubilation for the other. Today, the Penn softball shed tears of joy as it lifted the Johnson-Crowley trophy over its head for the first time since 1981.
The Quakers (30-18,16-4 Ivy) dispatched Dartmouth (26-20, 15-5) in a hard-fought contest that featured clashes in all aspects of the game. With a bit of home-field inspiration and fuel from their deep senior leadership, Penn edged the Big Green in the deciding third game of their series, 3-2.
The championship series was fought in scenic Penn Park where fans who attended Saturday’s activities saw the two teams reach a split with Penn winning 1-0 in the first and Dartmouth ending the day 6-2. Both games saw the two top Ivy pitchers battle and pitted Penn’s nationally ranked defense against a confident Dartmouth squad.
Game three began on a positive note for Dartmouth. After Alexis Borden struck out the first Dartmouth batter, the Big Green loaded the bases promptly thereafter. Borden, having pitched 12 innings yesterday, showed some fatigue while surrendering an RBI walk to Morgan McCalmon.
In the second, the Ivy North champs would again crack the Quakers “D,” cracking an RBI single off of the bat of sophomore pitcher Kristen Rumley. Heading into the bottom of the second, the Big Green lead 2-0.
Despite these runs, the circumstances could’ve been much worse. Twice in the contest Borden faced bases loaded situations, and with the help of her defense, kept Dartmouth from surging forward as they had in game two.
“That’s one of [Borden’s] strengths. When she does get runners on she does bear down very well,” coach Leslie King said. “She’s tough in those situations and we had all the confidence in the world in her.”
In the bottom of the second, Penn’s batters proved to Rumley — arguably the best pitcher in the Ivy League — that they were not afraid. After a deflating double play by Dartmouth’s infield, senior outfielder Jessica Melendez connected for a double, followed up by an RBI single off the bat of junior first baseman Georgia Guttadauro. Penn now only trailed by one heading into the third inning, 2-1.
The Quakers defense stood its ground against Dartmouth, completing a double play of their own and holding the Big Green off the scoreboard for the rest of the contest.
“Defense is all about flow, so yeah, we don’t move all the time like a basketball team,” senior outfielder Brooke Coloma said. “We mesh and know how to move together and we have confidence in each other, we know no matter who is on the field, we can get the job done.”
In the bottom of the fourth, Penn would strike again. Senior second baseman Samantha Erosa connected and reached second on a Dartmouth error. Then, as she has done her entire career, Coloma entered and notched another RBI single. Soon after, junior third baseman Kayla Dahlerbruch battled ferociously with Rumley, with a long at-bat culminating in a solo homer over the left field fence to give Penn a 3-2 lead.
The rest of the game would be a stalemate, with Penn’s defense shut down the Dartmouth attack. No other inning spoke more about the Quaker “D” than Borden’s championship-clinching 1-2-3 inning in the top of the seventh. Fittingly, the final out was a simple toss from Erosa to Guttadauro at first, a bread and butter play of the defense.
The stadium erupted with laughter, tears, and cheers as the entire Penn bench rushed the field, dumped water on King’s head and embraced each other, knowing that they had become Ivy League champions.
“They are a great team. I really wish them the best in the tournament,” Dartmouth coach Rachel Hanson said. “Any success they see now reflects well on the Ivy League as a whole. I hope we see Penn at our place for the same series next year.”
As the celebration settles down, it’s on to the NCAA Tournament for the Quakers. They will face a Top 16 team to be determined on May 12th by the NCAA.
“When you’re fortunate enough to go to post-season play, you’ve got to soak up every minute. We are going to go to some beautiful stadium and play some high quality team,” King said. “We are excited for the challenge and the experience. We are really going to enjoy the ride.”
As players and families hugged each other in celebration on the dirt, the emotions of the day were best summed up by Coloma:
“Today we [did] not [fight] just for an [Ivy championship] but for another chance to step on the field together. We’ve worked hard for [our] years at Penn and what better way to end [our] four years at Penn.”
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