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(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)

BLOCKING BACK: Princeton senior catcher Ty Ries blocks the plate in action last spring. Last weekend, Princeton split a doubleheader at Boston University to move to 15-7 on the season. The Tigers start their Ivy League campaign by hosting Penn for a doubleheader on April 2. Princeton is also scheduled to play a doubleheader at Temple on April 3.
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Tiger Softball Clicking on All Cylinders As It Starts Push to Regain Ivy Crown

By Bill Alden

Maureen Barron could sense something special in the air as her Princeton University softball team recently jetted back across the country from its annual California swing.

"They were fired up on the way back from California," said Barron, a former star pitcher at Princeton who is in her fifth year coaching the Tigers. "They wanted to play again the next day. They have a lot of fight and hunger."

The Tigers' appetite for action was understandable in the wake of the manner in which they feasted on their foes in California. Princeton went 8-3 on the trip, battling some of the elite programs in college softball.

The highlight of the trip was a taut 2-0 triumph over No. 3 Stanford. "That was a big win for us," said Barron, referring to the win over the Cardinals. "We really played them well. Erin [Snyder] pitched a great game, she gave up just two hits. We executed well. We moved runners up to get our runs."

Last Saturday, the Tigers lacked some of that execution as they split a doubleheader at Boston University. Paced by another pitching gem from Snyder, Princeton took the opener 4-1. In the nightcap, the Tigers fought back from a 4-2 deficit to forge ahead 5-4. In the bottom of the final inning, however, Princeton surrendered two runs to fall 6-5 to drop to a 15-7 record on the season.

"We played a great first game," said Barron, who got 11 strikeouts and two RBIs from her multi-talented ace Snyder. "The second game is perplexing to me. We hit the ball well and had some great plays but then there were moments where we didn't execute."

Barron was not perplexed by the offensive effort she got in Boston from junior Lindsay Motal, who hit a homer in each game. "Lindsay is seeing the ball so well right now," said Barron of her second baseman who is hitting .233 and has an on-base percentage of .459. "She is getting a lot of walks. The two homers she hit Saturday were line drives that flew right out of the park."

The Tigers are showing a lot more punch collectively than they did last spring when their bats went quiet for much of April. "I feel really good about the offense," said Barron, who has gotten 14 RBIs apiece from senior Melissa Finley, junior Amanda Erickson, and Snyder.

"It's not just the meat of the order that is doing well. We are getting contributions from one through nine, 10, and 11. We have good depth. No one has to carry the load. I've been seeing great adjustments from over the off-season."

As has been its tradition, Princeton is getting some stellar work on the mound. Junior ace Snyder is 8-2 with an 0.93 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 68 innings. Freshman Kristen Schaus has made an immediate impact, going 5-4 with an ERA of 1.31 and 94 strikeouts in 58.2 innings.

"Erin has done a great job," said Barron, who has also given work to Finley, Calli Varner, and Amelia Runyan as her staff has produced a team ERA of 1.25. "Her ball is moving well and she has great command of her numerous pitches. She is also doing a great job offensively. She has come up with some big hits. She is a very competitive player."

Schaus has also shown a special competitive spirit. "Kris is really going to be something," said Barron of her freshman from Naples, Fla., who has already thrown a no-hitter in her college career.

"She has great ball movement and she throws hard. She has a real understanding of the game. She really complements Erin well. Sometimes, I don't feel like I have a No.1 and No. 2 starter, I feel like I have two No. 1s."

With Princeton's Ivy League campaign starting this weekend as the Tigers host Penn for a doubleheader on April 2, Barron believes her team is primed to regain the top spot in the league which it relinquished last year after winning the Ivy in 2002 and 2003.

"I'm really pleased with where we are right now overall," said Barron, whose team was also slated to host Fairfield on March 29 and play at Temple on April 3 in upcoming action. "We've been playing well but we still have some room to grow which is good."

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