Softball looks for consistency in N.Y

If softball is a mental game, the Bulldogs are looking to show why they go to Yale.

The Elis (12-18, 2-2 Ivy) make the tour of the New York Ivies this weekend, with a doubleheader against Columbia (14-22, 1-3) Saturday and another twin bill against Cornell (16-15, 2-2) Sunday. While the conference season is just underway, no team in the league is still undefeated, and this weekend offers a golden opportunity for the Bulldogs to make a statement.

The Elis are coming off of yet another mixed series. On Wednesday against Fairfield, the Elis could not put anything together until it was too late in the early game, losing 6-4, but grabbed a victory in the late game on the strength of a three-hit performance from pitcher Ashley Linnenbank ’06.

It may be a different opponent this weekend, but for the Elis, the equation for victory remains the same — strong pitching plus run support equals wins. And that applies all the time, not just during the second game of a doubleheader.

“We need to wake up and not sleep during the first game,” right fielder Rachel Kelley ’05 said. “We know we can score and back up our pitchers defensively, so we will just have to do that early on instead of waiting for the second game to start.”

Neither of those things have been totally lacking in the Bulldogs’ game. Even in losing the early match Wednesday, the Elis notched 10 base hits. Between both games, the Bulldogs only struck out five times — an indication that they are making contact and putting the ball in play the large majority of the time.

And the Eli pitching has left very little to be desired this spring. Linnenbank leads the staff with a 1.80 ERA, while classmate Peggy Hunt ’06 passed the .500 win percentage mark with a pair of victories last weekend.

The issue is putting good pitching together with good hitting on any given day.

“We will need to come into the first game thinking that we need to score every inning and play our game like we know how,” Kelley said. “We always seem to be pretty slow when it comes to offense in the first games, so we basically need to get tough mentally.”

Despite being on a four-game losing streak, Cornell is the more imposing opponent of the weekend. The Big Red offense is led in a big way by senior co-captain Lauren May, last week’s Ivy Player of the Week.

May has the top batting average on the team with a surreal .442, and also leads the team in home runs (eight) and slugging percentage (.802). She tied the Cornell school record April 9 against Penn by hitting three long balls in a single game, en route to an 11-1 steamrolling of the Quakers.

The Big Red’s biggest weakness is pitching. The staff is small and boasts only one pitcher with an ERA below 3.00 — rookie Jenn Meunier.

This means Sunday’s games will most likely be up to the Eli hitters to win. The Bulldog hurlers, meanwhile, will have to find a way to temper a Big Red lineup that has hit 22 home runs this spring — more than three times the Elis’ current total of six.

“The key with Cornell is to keep them from hitting home runs,” pitcher Jessica Meyer ’07 said. “If the pitchers can do that, then we have a good chance of winning the game.”

Columbia, while on the weak side of the Ivy League, is nevertheless a very strong squad. The Lions are paced by third baseman Kacy Krisman, who leads the squad with three home runs and 15 RBI.

The Lions’ strongest pitching arm belongs to Megan Ivey. Despite a win-loss record of 5-11, the junior hurler boasts a 1.93 ERA in 116 innings pitched.

Columbia, like Cornell, has reeled lately. The Lions have lost their last four contests, and 10 of their last 12. But Columbia has shown itself capable of beating quality teams — the Lions are the only Ivy squad to deal Princeton a conference loss so far this season.

The Bulldogs believe that they have improved drastically since their spring break down in Florida and this weekend provides an opportunity to prove it.

“Our team has definitely been improving,” right fielder Niki Haab ’07 said. “Our record may appear to be pretty consistent with so many split doubleheaders, but recently, even our losses have been close games, and we havebeen in them up until the very end.”

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