Less than a day after their men’s hoops counterparts won a national championship on an improbable buzzer-beating three pointer, Villanova softball traveled to University City to take on its counterparts from Penn.
Unlike the Wildcats’ victory over North Carolina, however, the outcome of this cross-town matchup was never in doubt, with Villanova cruising to a 10-0 decision.
Although senior Lauren Li started the day on the mound for the Quakers (13-12), she did not stay there for long. Li, who surrendered four walks, three hits and seven runs, recorded one out before she was replaced.
The early bleeding continued for the Red and Blue, and by the end of the first inning, the scoreboard read 9-0 in favor of the Wildcats (16-13).
Along with the Quakers’ defensive troubles, Penn’s bats were silenced by stellar pitching from Villanova junior Jordan Prutzer. Prutzer held Penn to two hits through three innings pitched, ensuring that Villanova’s seventh consecutive win became a foregone conclusion.
Due to the Division-I softball mercy rule, the game was called after just four and a half innings.
The Quakers’ main struggle came in their control on the mound. Penn combined to surrender five walks in the shortened game, creating free opportunities which Villanova eagerly converted. The rotation’s performance was reflective of pitching inconsistencies that have plagued the team throughout the season.
The hole left by the departure of undisputed ace Alexis Borden — who ended last season with 144 strikeouts, 17 complete games and a 2.92 earned run average — has been difficult to fill. Although junior Alexis Sargent has done a particularly admirable job in the wake of her absence — recording a 2.15 ERA and 74 strikeouts — playing back-to-back doubleheaders every weekend in Ivy play requires reliance on more than just an ace.
Best positioned to take on the No. 2 role is sophomore Mason Spichiger, who has looked to match the success of her breakout rookie campaign from a year ago. Although her 4-2 record is nothing to scoff at, her 4.57 ERA stands a good deal higher than the 2.60 she posted last season.
In fact, Sargent is Penn's only player with a sub-3.00 ERA, demonstrating that the squad's weaknesses run even deeper than their loss to the Wildcats suggests.
Despite the unsettled nature of the rotation, however, the Quakers remain in the mix for the Ivy League crown. After splitting the first weekend of Ancient Eight play, Penn sits tied at the top of the South Division with Princeton.
Dartmouth, the top team in the North Division has raced off to a flawless 4-0 start in Ivy play, buoyed by reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Katie McEachern. The Big Green stand a full two games ahead of the rest of the division and remain the odds-on favorite to be the division's representative in the Ivy League Championship Series for the fourth straight year.
In order to earn its way to a fifth consecutive ILCS, Penn will have to show more offensive life than they did against Villanova. The lineup combined for just five baserunners, ensuring that the Wildcats' pitchers could take full advantage of their wide cushion.
This dearth of offensive firepower, however, has not been commonplace for the Red and Blue this season. The steady hitting of freshman revelation Sam Pederson and Li have led the Quakers to an overall batting average of .285, good for third in the Ivy League.
Penn will finish its run against North Division opponents this weekend, traveling to take on Dartmouth and Harvard in back-to-back doubleheaders. The games offer the chance for the Red and Blue to assert themselves as they make a run at the South Division title.
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