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(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)

ARMED FORCE: Princeton University junior pitcher Erin Snyder delivers a pitch last Saturday in Princeton's 1-0 win over Columbia in the opening game of a twinbill. Snyder, who recently pitched a perfect game against Fairfield, is off to a hot start with a 12-2 record, a 0.77 ERA, and 142 strikeouts in 100 innings.
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Snyder's Stellar Pitching, Batting Has Tigers' Softball Atop Ivy Race

By Bill Alden

Erin Snyder's right arm may not be 100 percent but those who have faced the Princeton softball pitching ace this spring would have a hard time believing it.

Last week, the junior fireballer opened the Tigers' Ivy League campaign in style as she fired a two-hit shutout against Penn, striking out 11. For good measure, Snyder smacked a homer to help Princeton cruise to a 4-0 win.

The Tigers built on Snyder's heroics as they completed the sweep of the Quakers when senior slugger Melissa Finley knocked a three-run homer over the centerfield fence at Class of 1895 Field to give Princeton a 3-0 victory.

For Snyder, the win didn't erase the nagging pain she has been dealing with in her pitching arm. "My forearm and hand are still messed up," said Snyder, who missed several starts in 2004 due to her injury woes. "I'm pitching differently, I think I will be fine. I'm adjusting to what I have and don't have."

That tinkering has certainly been a success as Snyder was named the Ivy League Pitcher of the Week for her effort against Penn and her perfect game against Fairfield on March 29.

So far this spring, Snyder has a 12-2 record with a 0.77 ERA and 142 strikeouts in 100 innings pitched. After a sweep of Cornell last Sunday, Princeton improved to 24-9 overall and 5-1 in Ivy League play. The Tigers are in first place in the league race, ahead of Harvard (3-1 Ivy) and Dartmouth (3-1 Ivy).

Snyder and the Tigers have also made some adjustments at the plate, jump-starting an offense that slumbered for much of last spring as Princeton's bid for a third straight Ivy crown fell short with Princeton ending up in the middle of the pack.

"I think we're in a different mindset for hitting at the plate," said Snyder, who has 18 RBIs to tie her for the team lead in that category with Finley. "We're more positive this season."

Princeton head coach Maureen Barron has seen plenty of positives this spring from Snyder. "Erin played a complete game," said Barron referring to Snyder's effort in the opener against Penn.

"She's really stepped up a lot this year. She's been able to lead the team that way and not let one aspect of the game affect the other. She thrives in pressure situations."

Barron smiled when considering Snyder's lingering arm pain. "People would die to have what she's got, I would say she's making a very good adjustment," said Barron, whose team is 24-9 overall and 5-1 in Ivy League play

"She's also done a great job hitting. She's someone who didn't hit in travel ball. She's just a naturally talented athlete with eye-hand coordination and strength."

As pivotal as Snyder has been this spring for Princeton, Barron is quick to point out that it has not been a one-woman show.

"I think we've been playing well and it's not just one or two people," asserted Barron. "Everybody is sharing the load. Tiffany Andras got a big double for us today. Calli Varner has been hitting the ball. There is a belief in teammates and that if you don't do it, someone is going to pick you up. It becomes contagious."

Freshman pitcher Kristen Schaus and the power-hitting Finley were two key contributors in the sweep of Penn.

"She throws hard, she doesn't pitch like a freshman," said Barron of Schaus, who gave up just four hits and struck out 11 in shutting out the Quakers in game two of the twinbill. "She's done a great job; she's been in some tough situations already this year. Melissa is just clutch, that's her mental toughness and her experience."

Barron believes the experience of coming up short last spring has made the Tigers mentally tougher on a collective basis.

"We had no runs going in the sixth inning of the second game and you might be a little tense but they were confident," said Barron, whose club has home doubleheaders against Harvard on April 16 and Dartmouth on April 17.

"They knew they could get the job done. They were loose. It's when you press that things get tight and can turn ugly. Obviously, this is the most important part of the season and it's great to start out with two wins. We had great pitching, great defense, and timely hitting."

Snyder, for her part, believes that the Tigers have the focus this spring to get the job done. "We know we can't count on things to go our way," explained Snyder. "I think last year we got thinking that we would beat everybody and it didn't happen that way. This year we're pumped up for every game. We come out and play like we could lose it."

If Snyder keeps up her stellar play on the mound and at the plate, Princeton isn't likely to lose too many league games the rest of the spring.

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