Imagine it’s the bottom of the sixth inning in the rubber match of the Ivy League Championship series. Your team is up 3-2, and only three outs separate you from an Ancient Eight crown, an NCAA berth and a chance at glory.
Then, the opposing team drills in five run and gains control of the lead in punishing fashion. And all of that glory slips away.
Penn softball doesn’t have to imagine. That series of unfortunate events was how the Red and Blue were robbed of a win in game three of the 2014 Ivy League Championship Series and a chance at defending their 2013 conference title.
But that was then, and this is now. The 2014 Quakers dominated by freshmen — 10 of the team’s 21-woman roster hail from the Class of 2017 — are one year older and one year wiser. They’ve already seen action in a championship environment against Dartmouth — the same team that did them in last year — on the Big Green’s home field in Hanover, N.H.
That experience, though crucial for calming nerves and finessing strategy, might actually be one of the biggest hurdles for the Quakers (22-18, 13-7 Ivy) as they head into the weekend series in Hanover.
“The challenges are both teams know each other really well,” coach Leslie King said. “We’ve played a lot against one another — there’s no secrets.”
Dartmouth’s recent dominance in Ancient Eight softball is also no secret — the reigning conference champions have either competed in or won the Ivy League title series in two of the past three years. Heading into the 2015 Championship Series, the Big Green (23-16, 16-4) have a lot of expectations riding on their performance.
“Being the underdog might be a little to our advantage,” King said. “The pressure is on Dartmouth, being on paper the favorite.”
No doubt, nearly every pundit in the Ivy League expects the Big Green to repeat their championship performance from 2014. But Dartmouth’s advantage might not be as pronounced as it seems.
The teams are nearly identical in every measurable softball metric. Dartmouth’s team batting average comes in at .291 to Penn’s .290. The Big Green slug .461 to the Quakers’ .460. Dartmouth has scored 176 runs this season; Penn has tallied 175.
The only category where the North Division champions dominate — not just Penn, but the entire Ivy League — is in homeruns. The Big Green bats have pounded 35 home runs in 2015, 12 more than the Ancient Eight’s runner-up in the category — Harvard — and over double Penn’s season total of 16.
What the Quakers may lack in efficiency behind the plate, it makes up for in stealth while running the bases. Thanks to the speed of outfielders sophomore Leah Allen and senior Sydney Turchin — who lead the team with 12 and 10 stolen bases — respectively, the Quakers have racked up 46 stolen bases on the season, trumping Dartmouth’s 26.
But no matter what the numbers may predict, the Ivy Championship crown is still very much up for grabs.
“I think the teams that get a few breaks, a little bit of good luck, some clutch hitting, some good defensive plays — that is the team that’s going to take it,” King said.
That is not to say that the Red and Blue are staring down the weekend without a clear game plan in mind. More or less, the entire 2014-15 campaign has amounted to this series. But this series is not just another shot at glory — it is a shot at redemption.
So what’s Penn’s strategy?
“That’s top secret!”
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