Winning seven games in six days, the softball team (23-23, 7-5 Ivy) has vaulted itself to the .500 level for the first time this season and claimed third place in the Ivy League.

The push down the stretch is exactly what the Elis envisioned after starting the season 2-14. As the three freshmen in the rotation gained valuable game experience and the lineup began to show cohesion, the Bulldogs developed into a formidable force and are on the verge of completing their season with a push toward a winning record.

“We started 2-14 and everyone was very, very discouraged when we came back from Florida,” catcher Kristy Kwiatkowski ’05 said. “We were totally flabbergasted. We lost so many close games, and it just seemed like everything was going against us. To come back shows a lot of character and that we’re going to be a force in the years to come.”

The backstretch began with two romps over Marist just a day after losing both ends of a doubleheader with Providence. Taking out their frustrations on the overmatched Red Foxes (7-28), the Elis rolled to 9-4 and 8-2 victories. Jillian Miles ’04 pitched a complete game in the opener and Beth Pavlicek ’06 hit a grand slam in the second game.

But the defining games occurred in New York over the weekend when the Bulldogs battled Columbia and Cornell in four nail-biting games. Three of the four were decided by one run and the fourth went to extra innings.

After the opener, there was little cause for celebration. The Big Red, despite being outhit 11-7, pulled out a 3-2 victory with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the seventh. Kwiatkowski hit a solo home run in the loss.

Not wasting time lamenting the loss, the Elis gritted out a victory in Game 2 by scoring three runs in the eighth inning for a 4-1 win. Pavlicek and Kwiatkowski had RBI singles in the extra inning, and Pavlicek sealed the victory by shutting down the Big Red (27-7, 10-4) in its final at bat.

“We showed Cornell we could play with them and to come back from such a tough loss showed what kind of team we are,” Miles said. “We hadn’t really shown to be very good on the road, and it was key to show that we could win on the road as well as at home.”

Carrying the momentum into the next day, the Elis took two more games from the feisty Lions (18-22, 6-8). The first game was a pitcher’s duel. Columbia hurler Jackie Adelfio, previously 5-0 in Ivy League play, handcuffed the Elis for 10 innings while allowing only four hits. Not to be outdone, Pavlicek matched Adelfio zero by zero. Finally, in the top of the 11th, Yale broke through on a solo shot by captain Jesseka Bartholomew ’03. Pavlicek made the 1-0 lead stand in the bottom of the inning.

The second game lacked the drama of the first, but it was just as closely contested as the Elis pulled out a 3-2 victory. Completing her incredible weekend, Pavlicek homered again, giving her three on the season and tying her for the team lead with Kwiatkowski. The winning run was manufactured the old-fashioned way. Laura Beckert ’03 opened the fifth with a single, stole second, moved to third on a bunt by Leah Kelley ’03 and then scored on a Bartholomew single.

“It was really important to beat Columbia and a pitcher who had been undefeated in the Ivy League,” Kwiatkowski said. “It showed the character Yale softball has. Even if we’re not going to finish first in the league, we’re not somebody who is going to lay down.”

Pavlicek earned her third Ivy League Rookie of the Week award of the season for her efforts. For the week, Pavlicek pitched 21.2 innings and allowed just three earned runs. In her rookie campaign, Pavlicek leads the staff in wins (nine), ERA (1.40) and saves (four). Hitting out of the cleanup hole, she also leads the team in slugging percentage and is second in RBI. Her efforts were crucial in securing the three wins in New York.

“We all looked back at Cornell and thought we should have taken two games from them,” Kwiatkowski said. “We all kind of take it harder than people who look and say, ‘You guys did great, you went 3-4.’ Well, we think we could have gone 4-4.”

Returning home and coming out of Ivy League play, the Bulldogs did not sputter against Army Tuesday. The first game showed shades of the weekend as Yale again rallied to score the winning run in the bottom of the seventh. Kelley opened the inning with a single and was promptly doubled home by Bartholomew. Peggy Hunt ’06 relieved Miles with two outs in the sixth and earned the win.

Army came out strong in the second game and tagged Hunt for three runs in the top of the first. Then the Elis exploded. In a memorable offensive performance, the Bulldogs piled up eight runs on eight hits in the bottom of the first. They drove two pitchers from the game before two outs had been recorded. At the top of the lineup, Beckert and Kelley went a combined 7-7 while scoring three runs and driving in three. Kwiatkowski also had a multi-hit game, and she knocked in two as well.

“We had to come back after giving up three runs in the first,” Kwiatkowski said. “We just responded and showed them we were there to play. Their pitching wasn’t that strong, and we were very aggressive, all swinging well at the plate.”

With today’s scheduled trip to Farleigh Dickinson having been cancelled (there might be a make-up doubleheader Saturday), the Elis should wrap up their season Friday at home against Brown (15-19, 5-6). Now back at .500 after such a rough start, the Bulldogs can claim a winning overall mark and fully solidify their grasp on third place in the Ancient Eight.

The Bulldogs are just now hitting their stride, and they may not have time to peak before the season draws to a close. However, the strong finish has left the door open for optimism about the future.

“The Brown games are important not just for our overall record but for the Ivies as well,” Miles said. “We’re probably going to finish third, but to have nine wins instead of seven will say a lot about the team. To overcome 2-14, that huge hole we dug for ourselves, lays the foundation for next year that we can build on.”