With playoff hopes still alive, the Princeton softball team will travel north to Ithaca, N.Y., to take on Cornell (12-21, 6-10 Ivy League) this weekend for two sets of doubleheaders that will conclude the regular season.
The Tigers (16-22, 8-7) trail Penn (19-17, 10-6) by 1.5 games entering the final weekend of play. If the Tigers win three or four more games than Penn does against Columbia (15-25, 6-10) in its four-game series, Princeton will win the Ivy South division outright and advance to a best-of-three Ivy Championship series. If Princeton and Penn win the same amount of games, or Penn wins more, then the Tigers will be eliminated and Penn will advance. Matters become complicated should Princeton win one or two more games than Penn. In this case, the representative from the South division will come down to a strange ending. Yale (9-21, 3-12) and Princeton could not finish their final game of this week’s make-up series, and the game was suspended due to inclement weather in the fifth inning with Yale leading 5-0. If this game affects the Ivy South race, the two teams will pick up the game once again in Princeton, with postseason hopes hanging in the balance for the Tigers and the idle Quakers.
In any case, this weekend’s matchup against Cornell will be a challenging way for the Tigers to end their grueling 43-game regular season. The Big Red took three out of four games in a series at Columbia last weekend, with two players earning league-wide recognition for their performances. Shortstop Chloe Pendergast was the Ivy League Player of the Week, hitting safely in each of Cornell’s five games last week while compiling a .471 average. Her performance was highlighted by a 3 RBI, 4-7 effort in Saturday’s matchup with the Lions. Meanwhile, pitcher Maddie Orcutt pitched in all four of last weekend’s games for the Big Red, going 2-2 with a 1.86 ERA while striking out 17 across 26.1 innings of work, recording three complete games that included one shutout. Orcutt’s stellar performances earned her the distinction of Ivy League Rookie of the Week.
Though Cornell enters the weekend’s contests with some players in top form, the Big Red will also be playing with added fire. Head coach Dick Blood, Cornell’s winningest coach in any sport in the university’s storied history, will step down after a 20-year span at the helm of the softball program. Though one Princeton or Columbia win would eliminate Cornell from playoff contention, the Big Red will have no shortage of emotional fuel for this weekend’s series.
The visiting Tigers, under head coach Lisa Van Ackeren, enter the weekend series after some recent mixed play. Last weekend’s 1-3 performance against Penn delivered a blow to Princeton’s playoff hopes, but did not completely dash them. A late rally keyed by senior Alyssa Schmidt’s three-run blast helped the Tigers avoid a sweep last weekend and remain in the hunt with Penn. Before rain and wind suspended play on Wednesday, junior pitcher Shanna Christian dazzled on the hill. Only a bang-bang play at first base in what would have been the last out of the game prevented the Parker, Colo., native from recording Princeton’s first no-hitter in 10 years. Christian scattered eight Ks and just the one hit in a complete game effort, and the Tigers beat Yale 2-0 to keep postseason aspirations intact.
Princeton will need more of the same from Christian and Schmidt this weekend if it hopes to beat a motivated Cornell team. Princeton will look to other players for clutch performances in the series as well. Senior Rachel Rendina, who leads the team in hits (37) and stolen bases (6), will need to catalyze the offense as she has so often this year. The Tigers will also rely on the rest of the pitching staff to step up in order to complement Schmidt. Freshman Ashley LaGuardia has led the rest of the unit in appearances (25) this spring, while posting a 3.29 ERA. Sophomore Claire Klausner, senior Meredith Brown and sophomore Erica Nori round out the rest of the Princeton hurlers that will be vital to their team’s success this weekend. With the season winding down, playoff hopes hanging in the balance and one eye on the events unfolding in New York between Penn and Columbia, it is shaping up to be an exciting weekend for the Princeton women’s softball.