Improved pitching puts softball on the list of Ivy contenders

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Pitchers Liza Kuhn ’13, left, and Alex Peyton ’13 have led Princeton to a 6-6 start in Ivy League games. (Photos: Courtesy Athletic Communications)
Entering Ivy League play in 2012, the softball team had a 3-16 record, worst in the conference, and carried an eight-game losing streak. After finishing tied for last in 2011 and 6-14 in Ivy play the previous season, the Tigers probably weren’t feared much by their upcoming opponents.
 
But Princeton opened conference play with a sweep of Dartmouth and took three of four games on a road trip the following week, ending an Ivy League weekend with a record above .500 for the first time in three seasons. Even after dropping three of four games to Penn on Saturday and Sunday, the Tigers are 6-6 in the conference and at least on the list of contenders – a major improvement over what their non-league performance predicted.
 
“Our preseason schedule is difficult, trying to play as great of competition as we can,” head coach Trina Salcido said. “We knew it was going to prepare us and help us to be sharper when we came into the Ivy League.”
 
If the season ended today, Cornell would meet Harvard in the Ivy League Championship Series for a third straight year; the Big Red is 10-2 in conference play and the Crimson 11-1. If anybody is going to crash that party, the most likely contender is Penn, sitting at 8-4 after its visit to Princeton. But the Tigers are still alive and may even control their own destiny entering the final weekend of the season, when they will play four games at Cornell April 28-29.
 
Princeton’s success has been fueled by an improved pitching staff: After finishing seventh in earned run average in league play last year, the Tigers have cut their ERA by nearly a run and a half, currently ranking third at 3.67. Much of the development has come from within, as Liza Kuhn ’13 and Alex Peyton ’13 have logged most of the key innings. Before losing twice this weekend, Kuhn had won four of her previous six starts, though her most impressive performance may have come in a loss at Brown, when she threw nine shutout innings and was one out away from a tenth before allowing a homer to the league’s best hitter, Stephanie Thompson, and eventually losing 2-1.
 

After winning eight, six, and seven conference games, respectively, in the past three years, the Tigers have six in hand this year with eight to play, an improvement Salcido partly attributed to good health. Starting shortstop Alyssa Schmidt ’15 missed the entire Penn series with mononucleosis, but before last weekend, the Tigers almost always had their key players on the field.
 
“It helps to have the same nine defenders out there, working together, growing together as teammates,” Salcido said. “We’ve been able to stay continuous until we got to this weekend.”
 
Quick takes
 
BASEBALL has been led by its pitching for most of the season, and it was the same story in Saturday’s opener, when Mike Ford ’14 took a perfect game into the sixth inning and a no-hitter into the seventh. But for the rest of the weekend, Princeton’s offense was the story, exploding for 29 runs to carry the hosts to a 3-1 record against Penn. The three most important runs came in the bottom of the ninth inning in Saturday’s second game, as the hosts overcame a two-run deficit with two outs and won on a pinch-hit single by Alec Keller ’14.
 
MEN’S LACROSSE scored 21 goals against Dartmouth in its return to conference play, its highest single-game total since hitting the same mark against the Big Green 14 years ago. Next week’s trip to Harvard should not be overlooked, but it is the season finale against Cornell on April 28 that will determine at least a share of the Ivy League title. WOMEN’S LACROSSE could have used some of those goals; Princeton fell 10-7 at Harvard and now probably needs to beat league leaders Dartmouth and Penn next week to have a shot at returning to the four-team conference tournament.
 
MEN’S GOLF hosted the annual Princeton Invitational at Springdale Golf Club this weekend; Evan Harmeling ’12 tied for fourth place individually at 2 under par as the Tigers finished fourth overall, third among Ivy League teams. Earlier in the week, WOMEN’S GOLF star Kelly Shon ’14 won her second consecutive tournament, finishing at even par in the Brown Invitational April 8-9. (Look for a profile of Shon in the April 25 issue of PAW.)
 
Road weekends have not been kind to the tennis teams. MEN’S TENNIS saw its perfect league record come to an end with losses at Dartmouth and Harvard. Meanwhile, the previous weekend’s road defeats are the only blemishes for WOMEN’S TENNIS, which beat the Big Green and the Crimson at home. Neither team is out of contention yet, especially the men’s team, which is a half-game behind Harvard in the league standings. Six of the eight Ivy men’s teams are .500 or better in league play.