It wasn’t exactly a field of dreams but it helped the Princeton University softball team out of an early season nightmare.
After a long-scheduled tournament appearance in Maryland was cancelled due to poor field conditions and a last-minute invite to a tourney in Salem, Va. got iced out due to a Thursday snowstorm down south, Princeton was able to transform its Finney-Campbell field turf facility into a makeshift diamond for a doubleheader Saturday against the University of Hartford.
The program had to jump through some hoops to make the twinbill a reality. “We went into the administration and said is this possible?,” said Princeton head coach Lisa Sweeney.
“Thank goodness for the athletics department, so many people had to step in. The facilities people and the administration were such a big help.”
While there wasn’t any dirt or grass in sight, the teams made the best of the facility.
“It was great, we had benches for our “dugouts,” we had stands,” said Sweeney.
“Hartford has a lot of girls from this general area and they had a lot of parents come. We had a lot of students who came down before the women’s basketball game. It felt like a real game; both teams really liked it.”
Sweeney liked the way her team competed as it lost the opener 6-5 in eight innings and then came back and posted a 4-1 victory in the night cap to earn its first victory of the spring.
In reflecting on Game 1, Sweeney credited her pitcher, Claire Klausner, with battling hard in striking out six and walking three on a day when she didn’t have her best stuff.
“We have two freshman pitchers and one of them, Claire Klausner, got the start,” said Sweeney.
“She had a tough first inning and we told her it is important to make adjustments. She grinded through eight innings when she wasn’t feeling her best and found a way. She put the team in a spot to win Game 1.”
The Tigers fell short of the win as they were doomed by some sloppy play. “We made a few mistakes that came back to bite us; we had three outs at third, that is never a good stat,” lamented Sweeney.
“We made some base running mistakes. The first game was a good indicator of growth and getting better from game to game.”
Princeton got better in the second game, jumping out to a 4-0 lead in the third inning on a grand slam by Marissa Reynolds.
“Marissa has a big presence at the plate, the team trusts her in the box,” said Sweeney. “We were waiting for the first big hit from somebody and that gave us a huge lift.”
In winning its first game of the season after six straight losses, the Tigers got some big hits from veterans Rachel Rendina, Alyssa Schmidt, and Cara Worden.
“Rendina, Schmidt, and Worden all had good at-bats in Florida but they all came up short and felt they could do better,” said Sweeney.
“How they perform at the plate sets the tone. They can be sparks for us and they embrace that role. We were more relaxed in the box overall.”
The pitching trio of Meredith Brown, Shanna Christian, and Erica Noel combined to give up just four hits with Christian getting the victory.
“We split time between three pitchers because we wanted to get all the pitchers some work and one had gone 8 innings in the first game,” said Sweeney.
“They knew they were going to split time. It is an adjustment for college pitchers to learn the relief role since most of them were starters in high school.”
In Sweeney’s view, the hard work Princeton has put in to this point will pay dividends down the road.
“I am happy that we are going to be underestimated,” said Sweeney. “I have uncompromising optimism that we are going to be consistently improving. We have a young team with a lot of new faces so we are going to have growing pains. I think we will keep getting better and peak at the right time for our Ivy games.”
A key step in the process will come next week when the Tigers head west for their annual California swing.
“It will be great for team bonding,” added Sweeney, whose team plays in the San Jose Tournament from March 15-16, has doubleheaders at Sacramento State on March 18 and at Pacific on March 19, and then wraps up the jaunt with the Santa Clara Tournament from March 21-23.
“We have 13 games scheduled and it will be an opportunity to get better everyday. We have a lot of people competing for positions. Everyone is competing with each other but still being good teammates. We are mixing up things and giving people the opportunity to play and show what they can do.”
After guiding the Tigers to a solid 27-19 campaign last spring in her first season at the helm of the program, Sweeney is looking for her players to show a lot in 2014.
“Last year was a get-to-know-you process and about sorting out things,” said Sweeney.
“The seniors are dedicated to improving the program. We have challenged the girls to raise the bar for themselves and the program. Everyone is on board.”