When it rains, it pours.
Penn softball, like the thunderstorm that loomed overhead, couldn’t get anything going in a demoralizing 8-1 loss to Villanova.
The results last weekend showed the Quakers (11-11, 2-2 Ivy) can come back from a deficit late, but this game was over in a hurry. The Wildcats (17-12, 2-4 Big East) took an early 2-0 lead in the first inning and finished the damage in the third when they poured on five more.
Penn starting pitcher Jennifer Brann (2-1) lasted only two innings, getting pulled after hitting her third batter to load the bases with none out in the third. She took the loss after giving up five runs on four hits.
Penn’s lone run came in the bottom of the fourth when three singles and a fielder’s choice brought home sophomore second baseman Sam Pederson. The inning ended before the Quakers could capitalize with runners in scoring position. That was a recurring theme – despite the shocking scoreline, the Quakers were only outhit 11-8. The problem was leaving nine runners on base, often in scoring position.
The Quakers have already shown their potential. Entering the game Tuesday, the Red and Blue were both the best batting team (.283 avg) and the second-best pitching squad (3.14 ERA) in the conference. They have contenders for conference Player of the Year and Pitcher of the Year in seniors Leah Allen and Alexis Sargent, respectively. None of that means anything if the Quakers don’t execute.
“We didn’t play up to our own standards,” coach Leslie King said. “I’m not making excuses, we have to show up and play the game.”
The excuses are there for the Quakers. Perhaps part of the struggle was due to Penn’s extremely young lineup: eight of their ten starters were freshmen or sophomores. For King however, the depth of her team is an asset that allows her flexibility throughout the lineup. It was also Penn’s fifth game in three days.
“[The schedule] makes it challenging to maintain that intensity level. We just have to be mentally strong,” King said.
Baseball and softball are notorious for the importance of mental strength. Coaches at all levels preach short-term memory – forget the bad game and immediately start preparing for the next one. In only a couple of days, the Quakers will have to do it all over again. The results will largely hinge on their mental strength – their ability to bounce back. It’s no coincidence that King identified smaller mental parts of the game as places to improve on.
“I think our communication on the field could be sharper,” she said. “Just controlling the tempo a little better, especially when things aren’t going well.”
This weekend is the second and final weekend of intra-division play. The Quakers again have two doubleheaders, the first at Yale on Friday and the second the next day at Brown. The four games are the last against North Division foes before the Ivy League schedule transitions to intra-divisional play.
Penn is under no illusion regarding the importance of these next games. The Quakers are 2-2 and sit in third-place in the South Division behind undefeated Princeton and Columbia. Head-to head matchups with both of these teams still loom on the schedule, but Penn can ill-afford to lose any more ground.
All that said, King is still confident entering the weekend. When asked which Yale or Brown player poses the biggest threat to the Quakers she dismissed the thought, saying, “I have no fear.”
It’s up to her players to prove her right.
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