May 9, 2018

Honoring Its Trio of Steady Seniors, Princeton Softball Fights to Final Out

DOCKSIDER: Princeton University softball player Danielle Dockx makes a play in recent action. Senior infielder Dockx ended her career last weekend as the Tigers wrapped up the season by going 1-2 in a three-game set against visiting Cornell. Princeton finished the spring at 10-29 overall and 8-13 Ivy League. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

With the Princeton University softball team having been eliminated from the Ivy League title race, there was pride on the line last weekend when the Tigers hosted Cornell in a season-ending three-game set.

Sparked by its trio of seniors Kylee Pierce, Danielle Dockx, and Ashley LaGuardia setting the tone, Princeton was determined to end the season by fighting to the last out.

“We have had a really tough year overall and they were mindful of that,” said Princeton head coach Lisa Van Ackeren. “They did well, they enjoyed it and competed really well. I am happy for them.”

Princeton started the weekend by falling 7-6 to Cornell in game one of a doubleheader on Saturday but then rebounded for a 5-2 win in the nightcap. In the season finale on Sunday, pitcher LaGuardia hurled a gem in a 1-0 loss with Pierce going 2-for-3 and Dockx coming up with a hit.

Van Ackeren credits her senior trio with setting a positive tone over their four years with the program.

“They are just consistent workers; they treated practice, lifts, and team stuff the same way the last week of their senior year as they did the first week of their freshman year,” said Van Ackeren

“They were just unbelievably consistent with their attitude and effort. They were steady and that is all you can ask.”

The Tigers, however, were plagued by inconsistent play this spring in going 10-29 overall and 8-13 Ivy League after winning back-to-back league crowns.

“Either the hitting was there and the pitching wasn’t or the pitching wasn’t there and the hitting was,” lamented Van Ackeren.

“There were moments of greatness on all sides of the ball, but we couldn’t put it together, especially in key moments. That is the mark of a championship-caliber team, doing those things when it matters the most. We just couldn’t figure out how to do that this year.”

In Van Ackeren’s view, the team’s returning players will be better for enduring the rough spring.

“We all had good lessons, both individually and as a team, so for the guys coming back, this will be a very useful experience, coming from a championship season to something far from it.” said Van Ackeren.

“The biggest thing is personal accountability. It is ‘what was my role in this and what could I have done better for the team to have performed to its potential.’ That is not just skill set or ‘I needed to have a batter at-bat in this situation.’ It has a lot to do with team dynamics as well, rallying the group when we are down and finding a way to be optimistic when adversity is hitting.”

Van Ackeren likes the foundation she has in place. “We have got a lot of kids who have a ton of innings under their belts,” said Van Ackeren.

“We rotated our lineup a bunch this year so a lot of people had at-bats. Sometimes it takes a few years to get that experience. It is a really good thing to be in those situations. We have got a lot of leadership coming back. Our rising seniors are a strong group of personalities and leaders. A lot of it will be determined on how they learned from this year and when they come back, what they want to do differently.”

The Tigers will need to have stronger pitching as the team ERA ballooned to 6.19 this spring from the 4.21 mark posted in 2017.

“From my perspective, it starts and ends in the circle,” said Van Ackeren, a star pitcher at Lehigh in her playing days.

“If you have somebody who can keep you in the game, you have a good chance of winning that game regardless of who it is and how much experience that they have. It is a matter of showing up and having the confidence to perform for your team.”

In the wake of the disappointing 2018 campaign, the Tigers will certainly show up with more hunger when they hit the field next year.

“I think some of them were worried about complacency coming into this year; it was OK we have won two, so how do we stay motivated to win three,” said Van Ackeren.

“They were motivated but things just didn’t go our way. So it is ‘let’s not have that happen again, let’s make sure that we are the best version of ourself.’ It will be motivating.”