Softball: Princeton revamps coaching, relies on returning pitching staff
“The coaches are helping us believe that we can win every game,” sophomore first baseman Libby Crowe said. “It’s hard in series, when you play the same team four times in a weekend, to go out there and have the same fire every game, so our coaches are really pushing us to be focused at every moment.”
The Tigers also welcomed six new freshmen: one outfielder, one infielder/outfielder, a pitcher, a catcher, a utility player and a first baseman. The additions provide depth for the Princeton lineup. This depth pushes the team to be much more competitive in practice and scrimmaging. Having more athletes will also allow the Tigers to have more speed on the bases, as they can have more base runners. The new additions also help make Princeton a faster team, as freshman outfielder Danielle Allen, a left-handed slapper, brings speed and energy to the field. In general, the team is working to be more aggressive on the bases.
Though the Tigers lost two starting seniors from last season, center fielder Nicole Ontiveros ’12 and third baseman Kelsey VandeBergh ’12, the returning players will fill in for the losses, and senior Nikki Chu will fill in at third base. With a senior class five seniors strong, there is a lot of upperclassman leadership this season, and all of the seniors should play a starting role.
As for the pitching staff, the Tigers did not graduate any of their pitchers, and seniors Alex Peyton and Liza Kuhn will return to start. Peyton had the Tigers’ best ERA at 3.24, the seventh best in the Ivy League. Kuhn had a season ERA of 3.69, good for ninth in the Ivy League, and sophomore pitcher Meredith Brown pitched a 3.77 season, good for 10th. The team now has five pitchers, all with very different styles.
Brown comes in as more of a junk-ball pitcher, grounding people out. The Tigers also have the added asset of freshman Shanna Christian, who, as a lefty pitcher, will keep teams that don’t see much left-handed pitching on their toes. The depth in pitching gives Princeton an advantage in longer series, as swapping pitchers can keep opponents off balance.
The Tigers finished last season with a 14-32 record, including an 8-12 mark in the Ivy League. However, much of their non-Ivy record reflects the difficulty of their schedule, as the Tigers faced some highly ranked teams. The Tigers have a similarly difficult schedule this year, starting the season facing teams that will have been playing games for weeks. The team is making up for its late start in playing games by scrimmaging as much as possible. The team sees a certain advantage to this situation, as it keeps an element of surprise.
“We think we have the advantage going into March because we have stats on every other team and they have nothing on us,” Crowe said. “I think we’ll surprise a lot of people.”
In the Ivy League last year, Princeton finished fourth overall, sixth in team batting average, second in fielding percentage and third in ERA. The season opener for Princeton will be on March 1 in Jacksonville, Fla. at the North Florida Osprey Invitational. The Tigers won’t see conference play until March 30, when they will play Brown at the Class of 1895 Field.
One of the biggest rivalry games of the season will come when Princeton faces Penn in a four-game series the weekend of April 13 and 14. Penn won the South division last year, keeping the Tigers out of Ivy Championship play. There is also an added factor of competition, as Coach Sweeney will face her old team on her old home field.
“Penn won our division and came in second in the Ivies, so I think they have a target on their back and we’re ready to shoot for them,” Crowe said.
Beyond going into a season with new coaches, strong pitching, aggressive base running and a renewed drive and enthusiasm, the Tigers will have a particular strength in their camaraderie, which helps them improve both in practice and in games.
“We say that we’re forced to be teammates but choose to be friends,” Crowe said. “We do almost everything off the field together, whether it’s all together [or] in small groups. We study together, we eat meals together, we go to New York together, and I think that really translates on the field. When you’re friends off of the field, it’s going to be so much easier to play like a team.”
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