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Stepping in as Penn softball's undisputed ace in her junior year, Alexis Sargent has powered past batters for a 1.68 earned run average in 2016.

Credit: Zach Sheldon

For Penn softball, not much has changed in the last two seasons. They have had a strong offense, made several runs at the Ivy title and had an ace starter named Alexis.

But this year, the difference is in the last name.

Just a year after graduating perhaps the most illustrious pitcher in program history in Alexis Borden, the Quakers have found a new star in the circle in junior Alexis Sargent.

After waiting in the ranks for two years behind Borden, Sargent emerged as Penn’s next top starter early in the season, wasting little time in establishing herself as a bona fide ace. In just a month of non-conference games, the junior from Alexandria, Va., posted a miniscule 1.01 earned run average.

“She got off to a good start, and mentally for her getting off to a good start was very important,” coach Leslie King said. “She’s really built off of the early success that she had and is just feeling very confident on the mound, which is great.”

While Sargent has struggled in the first few Ivy League matchups, her ERA still sits at a stellar 1.68 in 71 innings pitched. She has also recorded an impressive 74 strikeouts, eight complete games and three shutouts, good enough for an 8-3 record.

“Every season you walk in hoping for the best,” she said. “This year we knew that there were big shoes to fill with the loss of Borden, and I was just hoping to do my part and do my best. I’m very happy with where we’ve been so far this season.”

Part of the reason for Sargent’s elevated performance this season has been her ability to keep runners off the bases. So far this season, she has become much harder to hit, holding opposing batters to just a .220 batting average, well down from the .301 batting average against her last year. Combined with just 12 walks, Sargent is yielding on average just one base runner per inning, well down from her average of nearly two per inning last year.

“Over the summer, I decided to break down the fundamentals of my motion and work on them, which has resulted mechanically in a much better motion for me. It keeps me from getting tired so I can work deeper into games,” Sargent explained. “I’m getting better break on ball, getting ahead on batters, which allows me to throw the pitches that I want to throw rather than what I need to get over for strikes.”

Sargent’s dominance reached a high point last week against Rider when she came just one out shy of completing only the second no-hitter in school history. Her performance in the first month of the season is a big reason for the team’s 9-8 non-conference record. Aside from her stats and tangible results on the mound, Sargent’s presence on the team has had a profound effect on how they play.

“When you know you have a chance to win a ballgame, I think the whole team just goes out there with a lot more confidence knowing that your pitcher is going to keep you in the ballgame,” King said. “You tend to play better defense, you tend to hit the ball more because you just don’t feel the pressure.”

Senior Kanani Datan agrees and feels that she instills more than just confidence in the team.

“[Sargent] is a very dynamic teammate to have, so she brings a lot of positive energy, and just a lot of energy to the team in general,” Datan said. “She came in day one as a freshman and it was almost like she was already a senior. She was always loud, she was always positive, she was always a presence on the field, you knew she was there.”

This weekend, Sargent and the Quakers will face their biggest test of the season so far. The team travels to Hanover on Friday and Cambridge on Saturday to play doubleheaders against Dartmouth and Harvard, respectively.

Dartmouth, the two-time reigning Ivy League champ, returned the vast majority of their team from last year, and are poised to be the Red and Blue’s biggest obstacle in their quest to reclaim the title. The Crimson also figures to be in contention for postseason play, and will challenge the Big Green for the top spot in the Ivy North Division.

Despite the formidable opponents, with Sargent in the circle, Penn stands a fighting chance against anyone.

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