Softball to face first divisional challenge

A rain-soaked diamond will see some intra-division action tomorrow when the softball team meets its foes from Cambridge in a mid-season matchup.

The Elis (17-9, 2-6 Ivy) face rival Harvard (15-11, 4-4) in New Haven in a four-game series for their first test against North Division opponents, beginning today at 3:15. Yale is just two games back, nipping at the heels of first-place Crimson as the teams go head-to-head in a battle for the division’s top spot.

The Bulldogs are on a roll; they notched two wins against Ancient Eight opponents last week and swept Sacred Heart on Tuesday to put together a small three-game winning streak. Meanwhile, the Cantabs recorded a non-league sweep of their own against Holy Cross after falling twice to Cornell on Sunday.

The Crimson holds a 32-18 edge over the Elis in the overall series, dating back to 1972. But it’s a new year for the Bulldogs, who feel they are at the top of their game and have all the tools they need to beat the perennially victorious Harvard squad, catcher Katie Edwards ’09 said.

“We have a really strong team, and we’re just hitting our peak,” she said. “We had a couple of tough games, but we’re coming back and we’re going into this weekend the most prepared we can be.”

The Cantabs have a pitching staff that holds batters to just a .235 average, as well as a decent offensive squad. Harvard boasts one threatening long ball hitter in Lauren Murphy, who tops the conference with 10 homers, but it gets negligible contributions from other players. The Bulldogs hope to corral Murphy’s hits inside the park by serving her low balls to force her to ground out, shortstop Aracelis Torres ’08 said.

What the Crimson lacks in depth at the plate, they make up for on the base paths. The speedy Cantabs have only been caught stealing four times this year.

Yale is one of the best fielding teams in the conference, committing few errors and ranking second in the league with 10 double plays this season. The Bulldogs are even more unforgiving towards players attempting to steal, and catcher Edwards has thrown out 78 percent on the base paths.

Eli pitching has also been unbeatable as of late. At the top, ace Rebecca Wojciak ’09 has exhibited perfect control in her nine starts, allowing the fewest runs of any Ivy League pitcher. And the Bulldogs are much deeper than just their No. 1 on the mound. Rookie Holly Gutterud ’10 (4-0) has yet to lose a game, and closer K.R. Ling ’10 has only allowed one earned run in 24 innings.

But the players attribute their recent victories to the rebound in hitting.

“It was really helpful to come off that sweep of Sacred Heart,” Torres said. “We weren’t hitting all the time, but we were hitting when the opportunity arose. That helps with our confidence going into this weekend.”

Although the pitching has been solid from ace to closer all year, an offense that is able to get on the board in the first few innings may be the key to success in the most critical part of the Ivy League season.

“I definitely think it’s best to get ahead early in the game,” utility player Allie Canulli ’10 said. “I think scoring early makes a difference, because once you get to the later innings you never know what’s going to happen.”

The prospect of rain on Sunday has moved the schedule up a day, so the first doubleheader will begin today at 3:15 and Saturday’s contests remain unchanged. Despite the wacky weather and the daunting task of facing their arch-nemesis four times, the players are optimistic.

When Gutterud was asked about how the Bulldogs will fare in her first Yale-Harvard matchup, she replied in one resounding word.

“Awesome!” she said.

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