Yale Athletics

After a respectable performance over the first weekend of Ivy League play, the Yale softball team returns to New Haven this weekend for four more conference contests, eager to keep pace in the North Division title race.

The Bulldogs (7–19, 2–2 Ivy) opened with two victories over Cornell (6–13, 1–3), including a dramatic 5–4 victory in 11 innings, but fell twice to defending Ancient Eight champion Princeton (11–11, 4–0) the next day. Despite the low finish, the Elis find themselves at the top of the Ivy League’s North Division, as their 2–2 conference record stands above the 1–3 marks of Harvard, Brown and Dartmouth. This weekend, Yale will play its two remaining South Division opponents, Penn (11–11, 2–2) and Columbia (11–15, 4-–0), before it enters the meat of its season against its division rivals.

“I think we’re feeling pretty good,” pitcher Francesca Casalino ’18 said. “We were really happy with the [extra-inning] Cornell game. We were able to make adjustments, keep our energy up … We’re feeling good about this past weekend and excited for this upcoming weekend.”

The outset of 2017 conference play saw the Bulldogs improve their performances in close games this season. During a 14-game slate in Clearwater, Florida, the Elis went just 2–6 in one-run games, and players were quick to note that improvement in such situations would be critical to a successful Ivy League campaign. The Elis were put to the test immediately against Cornell, as the Big Red took the Bulldogs to four extra frames in their first meeting. The Bulldogs nabbed a 5––4 victory in the top of the 11th to begin the weekend on a high note, but finished their four-game road trip in disappointing fashion. Yale managed just two hits in another close game against Princeton, ultimately falling to a 2–0 defeat.

Yale’s offense remains a question mark heading into the second set of Ivy League doubleheaders. The Bulldogs sit in last place in the conference in batting average, are tied for last in both doubles and triples and rank sixth in the league with a paltry nine home runs in 26 games. There have been moments this season, however, that have showcased the team’s remarkable potential at the plate, such as last weekend’s 7–1 victory over Cornell or the 13-run doubleheader output on March 23 against Central Connecticut State. Outfielder Shelby Kennedy ’19 has paced the Yale lineup from the leadoff spot; despite not having recorded an extra-base hit in 77 at-bats, the Vail, Arizona, native has batted 0.299 with 23 hits to go along with a team-high 11 stolen bases.

“We play our best when we attack pitchers early on,” outfielder Sydney Glover ’17 said. “That’s why we were so explosive against Cornell, and that’s what we’ll have to do if we want to take down Penn and Columbia. That was the main difference between the Cornell and Princeton games — we just weren’t attacking early.”

This weekend’s opponents, Penn and Columbia, are no slouches. The Quakers put up the best nonconference record of any Ivy League team, going 9-–9 with victories over opponents such as Towson and University of South Florida. In its first weekend of conference play, the team split two one-run games with defending North Division champion Harvard before taking on Dartmouth. The Quakers, then 10–10, inexplicably lost 8–5 to the 2–22–1 Big Green in the first game of the doubleheader but righted the ship in the second matchup and took an 8–7 victory to salvage a split series.

Penn is also statistically strong, leading the conference in batting average at 0.284 and ranking second in both earned run average and strikeouts per seven innings. Sophomore infielder Sarah Cwiertnia leads a troop of seven Quaker regulars batting over 0.300 on the season, topping the team with a 0.389 batting average and 23 RBIs.

The Lions, meanwhile, are also an offensive tour de force. Despite a 7–15 nonconference record, Columbia has asserted itself during the Ivy League season’s first days, sweeping both Harvard and Dartmouth. The Lions lead the conference with 20 home runs and 53 extra-base hits, and boast two of the Ivy League’s most prolific run producers — outfielder Sommer Grzybek and shortstop Madison Gott have batted in 17 and 15 runs on the season, good for second and fourth, respectively, in the Ancient Eight. If the Elis hope to compete against the South Division leaders, they will have to kick their offensive engines into high gear and rely on their strong pitching to slow down the potent Columbia bats.

“One of the main things I focus on when I pitch against a good hitting team is to keep the ball off the plate so that they don’t make solid hits,” pitcher Terra Jerpbak ’19 said. “We want fly balls and ground balls so our defense can get the outs we need.”

Yale plays at DeWitt Family Field against Penn on Friday at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. and Columbia at 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.