In its third Ivy League series of the season, Penn softball showed the eye of the tiger as it picked up its first conference win against first-place Princeton.
The Quakers (3-26, 1-8 Ivy) ultimately dropped the series 1-2 to the Tigers (13-14, 7-2), but left Penn Park with their first victory over Princeton in four years. Sunday’s win is a step in the right direction for the Red and Blue, as it looks to leave its early struggles behind and climb up the Ivy standings.
The Tigers came out roaring in game one of the series, taking a swift 5-0 lead in the first inning off of four hits — three of them being extra-base hits. Penn’s offense was silent for a majority of the game, an all-too-common occurrence for the Quakers this season.
Freshman right-handed pitcher Kelly Zybura threw an impressive relief performance after sophomore right-handed pitcher Payton Bean made an early exit. In six frames, Zybura held Princeton to two runs and seven hits while striking out two. Zybura lacked run support, though, as the Quaker bats only mustered two hits at the plate. A late-inning effort to load the bases proved to be too little, too late, as a Princeton double play completed the 7-0 shutout.
“I think myself and a lot of my teammates have just really been working on confidence and having really, really great composure,” Bean said. “I know it's really easy to get super emotional, especially when the season has started off the way it did. But honestly, we pick each other up and everyone's just approaching it with everything they’ve got.”
With the opportunity for redemption in front of them, Sunday’s doubleheader turned the tables in the Quakers’ favor. Princeton took another early lead in the first off a pair of hits, but this time, Penn tamed the Tigers before their lead spiraled.
A dominant fourth inning set the tone for the Quakers. After two singles and a double, sophomore infielder/outfielder Danica Larwill recorded a two-RBI single to put the Red and Blue 4-1.
The magic didn’t stop there, though. Senior catcher Sarah Schneider extended the Red and Blue’s lead to five with a two-run homer over the right field wall in the next inning. Schneider is having a standout season so far, ranked ninth in the Ivy League with a slash line of .329/.936/.553.
“I just tried to do my job as part of the team and help put myself in a position to score some runs or be on base for the next players to bring me in, and I have all the confidence in them to do that,” Schneider said.
Sunday afternoon’s success would not have been possible without stellar pitching performances, though. Zybura — game two’s starter — held the Tigers to three runs and nine hits in over six innings of work. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Rachel Riley held off a seventh inning rally to secure the 6-3 Penn win.
“It felt great to have my team behind me," Zybura said. "We played a really good defense, made some really crucial hits at some great times, and our energy in the dugout was stellar — it felt like a very big team effort.”
With each team in the win column, the series win would come down to a rubber match in the second half of Sunday’s doubleheader. Defense was the name of the game, as a diving catch by junior infielder Sammy Fenton to end the top of the first made it clear that game three would be hard-fought. The match was largely a pitching duel between starters Bean and Princeton's Alexis Laudenslager, as both teams combined for only eight total hits.
Princeton got on the board first with a pair of base hits in the top of the fourth inning, but Penn responded in the same frame by capitalizing on Tiger errors to even the score 1-1. From there, it was a back-and-forth battle. But in spite of Bean’s and reliever Zybura’s best efforts on the mound, Princeton brought in two more runs in the seventh to bring the final score to 3-1.
Hoping to build off of Sunday's sparks of success, Penn softball is back on the road for a matchup at Villanova on Tuesday afternoon, followed by a three-game series at Yale over the weekend.
“I think our team actually does really well with away series — we kind of feed off the other team's energy and really match them well. So based off of this and going away, I think it's going to be phenomenal,” Bean said. “I think if we can carry over this energy, and I'm sure we will, it's going to be a great rest of the season for us.”