For the Princeton University softball team, its doubleheaders at Yale and Brown last weekend represented the chance to reinforce its self-image.
“The team believes that it is going to be contenders,” said Princeton second-year head coach Lisa Sweeney, whose club started its Ivy League campaign by getting swept by Dartmouth in a doubleheader on March 31.
“They had to prove it to themselves to see that we are who we say we are. It was an important confidence builder. We wanted to see more offensive production and we did.”
In the twinbill against Yale, the Tigers displayed some offense in the opener, exploding for a five-run rally in the seventh inning to pull out a 5-2 win. The Princeton bats, though, went silent in the nightcap as Yale rallied for two runs in the bottom of the seventh to earn a 2-1 victory and a split.
“We left a lot of runners on base,” said Sweeney. “We left it to the seventh inning in both games, one turned out in our favor and the other one didn’t. It taught us that we need to have a sense of urgency, we need to make things happen before the seventh inning.”
A day later, Princeton swept Brown 7-6 and 8-3, sparked by the heroics of freshman second baseman Haley Hineman, who delivered a game-winning two-run single in the opener and went 6-for-8 on the day with a homer, two runs scored, and five RBIs as the Tigers improved to 10-18 overall and 3-3 Ivy.
“It was wild, we left a lot of runners on base,” said Sweeney, reflecting on the opener.
“We had to use three pitchers in the first game and they each did their job. Brown had momentum at various points and each came in and stopped it. Then a freshman, Hineman, stepped up. She had 12 pitches at-bat before she got that hit. You could see her confidence growing and she carried it over to the second game. It was a cool thing to see.”
Sweeney has a lot of confidence in Hineman’s all-around play. “Hineman is so solid defensively; she is getting a lot of balls because our pitching staff forces a lot of grounders,” said Sweeney.
“When the ball is hit to her you can look the other way because you know she is going to make the play. She is so solid and gritty. It was good to see her come through offensively.”
Princeton has been getting good contributions from two key veterans, junior shortstop Alyssa Schmidt and sophomore pitcher Shanna Christian.
“Alyssa is taking on a bigger leadership role this year; she has struggled with some self doubt offensively,” said Sweeney of Schmidt who went 4-for-9 with a run and four RBIs in the sweep of Brown.
“She wasn’t overthinking last weekend and was the athlete we know she can be. The team follows her when she gets clutch hits. Shanna is a good presence on the mound, the team plays well behind her. She always keeps us in games.”
With Princeton slated to host Rutgers on April 10 before heading to New York City this weekend for doubleheaders at Columbia on April 12 and 13 as it begins Ivy South action, Sweeney is looking for some more clutch play from her team.
“We are a force to be reckoned with,” said Sweeney. “Things haven’t come together but we are showing inklings in places of some really good things. You always want to be playing for something. There can be huge shifts in the Ivy in a weekend. It is so finicky. You never know what is going to happen; you want to control your destiny. We need to draw on the confidence we gained this week.”