In poker as in softball, having an ace dramatically increases the likelihood of victory. In the initial stretches of the season, however, it is clear that Penn softball will have to bet with different odds.
With the departure of Alexis Borden, arguably the best pitcher in school history, the Quakers’ revamped pitching staff has some large shoes to fill. Borden, the owner of six all-time school records, including strikeouts, wins and shutouts, received four All-Ivy selections and was a truly dominant performer throughout the course of her illustrious career.
Despite her highly conspicuous absence, the Red and Blue hope that Borden’s dependable presence at the top of the rotation will be replaced by a far more collective effort.
Coach Leslie King elaborated on her vision for the rotation as the season picks up.
“It’s definitely much more of a staff than we’ve had in the past few years,” she said. “All of these pitchers will get significant playing time and have a chance to really develop.”
The rotation will likely be paced by junior Alexis Sargent and senior captain Lauren Li. Sargent has been particularly impressive in the early stages, demonstrating remarkable versatility in transitioning from the infield to the mound. Although her sophomore season was spent largely at first base and cementing her status as a power hitter, Sargent has ably translated her team-low 2.60 earned run average from last season to this year. Over the course of the Quakers’ 10-game stretch in Florida, she went 4-1, recording 24 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.79.
King speculated on the pitching potential that Sargent has demonstrated.
“If she assumes that [leadership] role, I would be very happy for her,” the Quakers’ coach commented. “She really did pitch very well down in Florida and she gained a lot of confidence, so that’s a big step for her. But I also believe that she is going to rely on the rest of the staff to pick her up even if she’s not doing so well. ”
Li has had her share of struggles to open up the season. Although the senior and former unanimous first team All-Ivy selection has demonstrated her usual dominance at the plate, her two starts have been less than stellar, as she has surrendered eight earned runs in 6.2 innings of action. But despite these early disappointments, Li, like her coach, emphasized the need for a collective effort on the part of the staff.
“I definitely agree that this staff is a cooperative unit rather than a set of individual standouts,” Li said. “I think that this is a really different season from last year. Obviously we lost Alexis, who was a phenomenal pitcher and a franchise player and all the pitchers this year realize those shoes are not for any one person to fill.
“We’ve talked about it and we’re poised to surprise some people in Ivy League play this year.”
Penn will also rely on two underclassmen, freshman Joy Lewis and sophomore Mason Spichiger, to round out the pitching rotation. The duo combined for one win over three starts in Florida, showing flashes of brilliance, but falling prone to mistakes that young pitchers often exhibit.
King, however, remained hopeful that these issues would correct themselves as her younger players develop.
“We need to be more consistent with our control and our pitches throughout the staff,” she said. “We’ve been playing inside on turf, inside a bubble, so in these first games, it’s always hard to go out and be on a pitching rubber and the dirt. The approach can’t change and we need to get more comfortable with that. We’re confident in our offense and our defense in supporting our pitching staff and helping build that everyday consistency.”
After 10 games in the idyllic warmth of the Sunshine State, Penn will have adjust to its immediate reality. Although they haven’t been dealt a strong hand, the Quakers don’t plan on folding.
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