April 11, 2018

Princeton Softball Goes 1-2 Against Dartmouth, Needs to Sharpen Focus to Get on Right Track

THE RIGHT STUFF: Princeton University softball pitcher Allie Reynolds fires a pitch last weekend as the Tigers hosted Dartmouth in a three-game set. Freshman Reynolds earned a shutout as Princeton posted a 6-0 win in the first game of the weekend. The Big Green went on to win 8-6 and 12-1 in the final two games. The Tigers, who moved to 5-20 overall and 3-6 Ivy League, play a three-game set at Yale next weekend with a doubleheader on April 14 and a single game on April 15. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

For the Princeton University softball team, its loss to Dartmouth in the second game of a three-game set with the Big Green last weekend served as a microcosm of a rough start to the 2018 campaign.

The Tigers jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning in the contest on Friday and then, after surrendering three runs, battled back to make it a 3-3 ballgame heading into the fourth. Dartmouth, though, answered with two runs in the top of the next frame and added one each in the last three innings to pull away to a 8-6 win.

“We let the moment get bigger than it truly is in the pressure situations,” said Princeton head coach Lisa Van Ackeren, whose team fell 12-1 in the finale against Dartmouth to end the weekend at 5-20 overall and 3-6 Ivy League.

“We have to figure out how to stop the bleeding. It is key for us to figure out how to be tough and stable and recognize when somebody just needs to step up with a big play here and that we are going to be OK.”

Van Ackeren is seeing good mental toughness from freshman pitcher Allie Reynolds, who got the weekend off to a good start by hurling a three-hit shutout in a 6-0 victory.

“Allie has got the makings to be a really, really strong pitcher for us; she has gotten a ton of time under her belt as a freshman,” said Van Ackeren, noting that junior hurler Riley Wilkinson has been sidelined by injury.

“She has stepped up and she has been emotionally steady, which is what we need. She is not really fazed by much. You walk to the field and you never know what the score is from watching her play. That is the mark of a really strong, composed pitcher. She has done a really good job for us in some really tough situations.”

Kaylee Grant, Mackenzie Meyer, and Allison Harvey all had their moments at the plate against the Big Green over the weekend. Junior Grant went 2-for-4 with two runs scored and two RBIs in the doubleheader on
Friday while freshman Meyer slugged a two-run homer in the second game and junior Harvey went 4-for-7 with two runs and three RBIs on Friday.

“Kaylee has struggled a little bit early on just to find her groove, but she always trusts the process,” said Van Ackeren.

“She is one of those kids who doesn’t abort the plan and just continues to fight for it. Mackenzie has been such a good spark for us in so many ways this year. She is such an energy kid, she is the most excited kid to play everyday. Harvey has been Harvey, I think that is what she expects of herself. She wants to come up in the RBI situations, she wants to compete.”

Junior catcher Keeley Walsh has given the Tigers some competitive fire. “Keeley is such a great influence on the whole team, she is as as steady as they come,” said Van Ackeren of Walsh, who is hitting .319 with two homers and 10 RBIs on the season.

“She has done such a good job in a really difficult situation. She cares so much about our pitchers. After every game, regardless of her own performance, she is coming up and saying what can we do, how can we get better.”

In the view of Van Ackeren, improved pitching is the key to Princeton playing better going forward.

“It starts in the circle, if I said anything else I would be lying,” said Van Ackeren, whose staff has a 7.14 ERA.

“It is big part of what we do. You look at any successful team and they all have strong pitching or stable pitching. That is what we are tasking our pitching staff with, trying to do whatever it takes to figure things out individually.You have  to separate what has happened in the past and commit to only being forward thinking and progressive-minded.”

The Tigers also need to take a stronger approach at the plate.

“We need our offense to have quality at-bats; we have not gave that consistently through our lineup,” said Van Ackeren, “We will have a really good first inning and really good seventh inning and there is kind of a lull in between where we lose our commitment to having quality at bats. I think if we do that, we would put a little more pressure on opposing pitchers.”

With Princeton having won two straight Ivy League titles, Van Ackeren believes her squad has what it takes to move up the standings and finish in the top two to earn a spot in the league’s championship series.

“We are couple of games away from becoming the team we know we can be,” maintained Van Ackeren, whose team plays a three-game set at Yale next weekend with a doubleheader on April 14 and a single game on April 15.

“The good part about it is that we are in a situation where there is a ton of parity in the league. It has been all over the place. It is anybody’s race and I think our guys know that. It is just a matter of focusing on ourselves and controlling what we can control.”