Standings don’t account for moral victories, but for a team that has been struggling all season, Penn softball’s weekend series against Columbia might be a glimmer of hope in an otherwise difficult year.
The weekend did not start off on the right foot for the Quakers. Despite stellar pitching from freshman right-hander Kelly Zybura, Columbia walked it off in the 8th inning to win 1-0. Penn rebounded in game two, cruising to a 7-0 victory behind another spectacular pitching performance, this time from senior right-handed pitcher Bella Fiorentino, and their best offensive performance in Ivy League play thus far. But, the Quakers would drop the final game of the series on Saturday in another close loss 5-4.
“The thing we’ve been focusing on this season is playing our game. I think we definitely did that much better this weekend, compared to some of the other weekends,” junior utility player Katie Reagan said.
Penn’s success this weekend was in large part thanks to their pitching. Zybura, Fiorentino, and sophomore right-hander Payton Bean combined for the fewest runs Penn has allowed in a three-game series this season. And of the six runs the trio surrendered, only four of them were earned. Fiorentino earned her first win of the season and finished the weekend giving up just one earned run in nine total innings of work.
Despite the strong pitching, the Quaker’s bats fell asleep in game one, as both teams struggled to get anything started offensively. Penn’s best opportunities to score came in the fifth and eighth innings but each time they failed to score and left two runners stranded. The Lions eventually walked it off in the eighth with a single down the left-field line.
According to Reagan, it's easy to let the loss affect the rest of the series after losing the first game of a doubleheader.
“We knew that we had the talent. We have the skill. We have everything it takes to beat them," she said. "The biggest thing was to keep up the energy because we are such an energy-based team.”
The Quakers certainly did just that in the second game of the doubleheader on Friday, racking up seven runs and shutting down the Lion offense. Fiorentino continued to contribute, this time at the plate, adding two doubles to her 6.2 scoreless innings in the first game. In addition to Fiorentino, Reagan notched two hits and three RBIs in the victory. The seven runs are the most the Quakers have scored in Ivy League play this season.
“One of the things that I’ve been struggling the most hitting-wise is my timing. I have been early on everything,” Reagan said. “I went into that game with the mindset I’m better than this pitcher. See the ball hit the ball hard.”
Both of Reagan's hits in the second game — a triple and a single — were to the opposite field, which meant in each of those at-bats she allowed the ball to travel further into the zone and was not early on the pitch.
While the Quakers were able to produce seven runs in their second game, they struggled all weekend to execute with runners on base. They finished the weekend stranding a total of 26 runners across the three games. Nowhere was the problem more apparent than the 5-4 loss in the final game of the series. Penn outhit the Lions eight to seven but stranded 10 runners while Columbia only left three. For five innings in a row Penn left two runners on base, and in most cases those runners were on second and third.
“In a lot of those situations, we hit the ball hard just right to people and unfortunately that didn’t go our way. I think that as a team, we definitely have been working on our mindset with runners in scoring position,” Reagan said.
But despite dropping two games, with two Ivy series’ remaining, there were a lot of positives to take away for the Quakers this weekend.
“One of the biggest things that we showed ourselves is in that second game that we won we were dominant and we were flat-out beating the other team," Reagan said.
Reagan added that, in a difficult season like the team is having this year, it is easy to think that they are not good enough to compete. However, this weekend's series showed that they are able to not only compete, but to win in the Ivy League.
Penn will play next at Drexel, Wednesday at 4 p.m. before hosting Brown this weekend for a three-game series.