A historic rivalry. An Ivy South division title. A conference championship appearance. These are the stakes for Penn softball as they take on the Princeton Tigers in its second division series of the season.
The Quakers (12-16, 7-4 Ivy) will head to Princeton (14-21, 6-6) this weekend to take on their top rival in the South Division. Given that Princeton is only a game and a half behind Penn in the division standings, the winner of the four-game series will likely determine which team gets the division’s top seed when the Ivy League Championships roll around in May.
Heading into the weekend, Penn leads the Ivy South with a 7-4 conference record. The only teams with better records against Ancient Eight foes are undefeated Dartmouth (12-0) and Harvard (9-0) in the North division.
Princeton is led by coach Lisa Sweeney, a former assistant coach at Penn. Sweeney specializes in pitching and helped nurture junior pitcher Alexis Borden during her first season with the Red and Blue.
Though Sweeney has only been at the helm of the Tigers’ softball program since 2012, her pitching expertise is clear. Princeton’s top pitcher — freshman Erica Nori — sits at a 1.90 earned run average for the season, the third best in the Ivy League. Nori’s fastballs will test the Quakers at the plate.
Luckily for Penn, this season’s young roster has turned the the team into an offensive powerhouse. In four of their last five wins, the Red and Blue have scored eight or more runs. Excluding last Saturday’s loss against Cornell when the Red and Blue were held scoreless, Penn’s bats have been on fire.
Penn’s hitting brigade is led by freshman right fielder Leah Allen. After hitting two home runs in the doubleheader against Cornell last Sunday, Allen leads the Ivy League with an absurd .404 batting average.
The Quakers’ defense looks lackluster compared to Penn’s offense. Freshman Alexis Sargent and Borden bolster Penn’s defense with ERAs of 1.62 and 2.35, respectively. The pair’s consistency in the pitching circle has yet to be matched by consistency in the field In Wednesday’s 6-2 loss to Drexel, two errors hurt the Quakers significantly.
With the stakes as high as they are this weekend, all the Quakers can afford to do is improve themselves in the field. And if Penn can continue to raise the level of its play, they may just have a shot at a second-consecutive Ivy League championship.