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Junior infielder Madison Bauerle follows through on her swing against Cornell on Mar. 24.

Credit: Cynthia Dong

Last year, Penn softball’s Ivy League campaign ended with just one series win that came in the penultimate series of the season. This year, the Red and Blue were able to equal last season’s tally with just the Ivy League opener.

Penn was able to secure the series win against Cornell after splitting with the Big Red in the doubleheader on Friday and picking up the series-clinching win in dominating fashion on Sunday. 

In both games of the doubleheader, the Quakers (7-12, 2-1 Ivy) showed that they were comfortable with playing from behind. In both, the Big Red (3-14, 1-2) were the first to get on the board. 

In the first game, Cornell was able to break the stalemate in the top of the third inning after leaving several runners stranded through the first two innings. In the second game, it took Cornell less time as infielder Emma Antich scored on a sacrifice bunt by infielder Maddie Ullensvang at the top of the second inning. 

While the starting pitchers for the doubleheader — junior right-hander Rachel Riley and sophomore right-hander Kelly Zybura — struggled at times to find the zone, the fact that the Penn bats were as cold as the weather on offense at the beginning of both games didn’t help matters. 

It took until the bottom of the fourth in game one before sophomore catcher Delaney Smith recorded the team’s first hit of the day off a line drive that took a wild, and slightly lucky, hop past the Big Red shortstop. After the Red and Blue loaded the bases off of Big Red pitcher Madalyn Covelli’s second walk of the day, senior utility player Katie Reagan was able to bring home both sophomore pinch runner and outfielder Blake Landow off of a sacrifice fly. 

The top of the sixth marked the turning point for game one. After Cornell retook the lead off of outfielder Hailey Pirkey’s first career home run, the Quakers got to work immediately. Senior infielder Dana Anderson set the tone with a leadoff standing double. Freshman pinch runner and outfielder Maia Hartley immediately capitalized on the momentum by stealing third. Freshman infielder Chloe Lesko was able to bring home Hartley to tie the game up while also getting to first safely. A sacrifice bunt from Reagan was able to move Lesko from first to second.

From there, back-to-back wild pitches was all that was needed for Lesko to steal third and then home to give the Quakers their first lead of the game. After scoring the go-ahead run, Lesko found herself ending the game the next inning, sliding into foul territory to secure the third and final out of the game. 

The second game didn’t end as fortunately as the first, but that wasn’t for the Red and Blue’s lack of trying. Going into the bottom of the seventh down three runs, it looked like the writing was on the wall. However, the Quakers proved that the game isn’t over until the final out is made. Reagan started the inning by getting on base with a single. With two outs left and pinch runner Hartley on third, a single from freshman outfielder Megan Haung was able to cut the lead to just two. Then, Huang was able to score to make the game a one run ordeal off of senior outfielder Brianna Brown’s single. With Smith stepping up to the plate, an errant throw to get Brown out at third rolled into the outfield which allowed Brown to score and send the game to extra innings.

Unfortunately, the Red and Blue magic that got the team to extra innings fizzled out and the Big Red scored three runs in the top of the eighth to tie the series up at 1-1. 

This set the Sunday afternoon matchup to be one for the series win. And in a game where momentum means everything, the Quakers seemed to finally piece everything together as they jumped out to an early lead which they never relinquished control of. The nicer weather was accompanied by hotter bats as Penn scored three runs in the first inning alone, including a two-run home run by Anderson — her first of the year. 

“I think their confidence grew,” coach Christie Novatin said. “I mean, when you see people a couple of times, you're more in tune to be able to make faster adjustments. And I just think we got into rhythm with adjustments today. We had a good plan … and I think that's what showed up.”

Junior right-handed pitcher Payton Bean was mostly dominant on the mound, including a stretch at the top of the sixth where she struck out three consecutive batters after walking one and letting up a single. Going into the top of seventh with a six run lead, the Big Red seemed to draw inspiration from the Red and Blue’s performance in the previous game as Antich hit a two-run home run to bring the Big Red within four. Unfazed, Bean put the game away with a line out and fly out to secure the Quakers their first Ivy League series win of the year. 

“That was awesome, especially doing it at home. And that makes it extra special,” Novatin said. “This group has worked really hard. And I know that they feel like they now have a lot of proof [of that]. So I’m glad we could do it.”

For the Red and Blue, Lesko has put together an impressive start to her collegiate career. Even when the hits weren’t necessarily going her way, Lesko made several key plays on defense, including two back-to-back outs at the top of the fourth in game two to keep the Big Red lead at the time to just one. A solo home run — her second at the collegiate level — to ice the series-clinching game was the ideal way for her to announce her presence to the Ivy League. 

“I pride myself on showing up every day for the best for my team, for the best for my coaches,” Lesko said. “And being able to see the results and trusting the process of how hard I work is rewarding in itself.”

Moving forward, Penn softball will be looking to capitalize on the momentum to make an unlikely run of the Ancient Eight table — one that no one would have predicted just weeks before. But before the team returns to Ivy League action, the Quakers will take the field against Lehigh on March 27. First pitch for game one is set to take place at 4 p.m. and the game will be streamed on ESPN+.