Tiger Softball Shows It Can Play With Best at NCAAs, Now Aiming for Big Breakthrough on National Stage
By Bill Alden
Maureen Barron has maintained all spring that her Princeton University softball team can play with anyone in the country when it's on its game. Facing elimination from the NCAA Tournament last Sunday, the Tigers provided some graphic proof of their coach's point.
Battling powerful Oklahoma State at the Tucson, Ariz. regional, Princeton led 3-0 after five innings on the strength of two homers from senior star Melissa Finley and some dazzling pitching by freshman phenom Kristen Schaus.
"The team came on the field in great shape for that game," said Barron. "We had two games under our belt and we had gotten all the nerves and rustiness out of our system. Schaus was throwing a great game and we were really swinging the bats well."
But then Oklahoma State erupted for three runs in the sixth and three more in the seventh to top Princeton 6-3 and end the Tigers' season.
"OSU is a really good team," said Barron, whose club finished with a 36-20 record. "They got some kids on base and got some big hits. If we could take back two pitches from that game we could've had a different result. I'm really proud of how our girls played. That game was by far our best showing."
Barron acknowledged that it took her club a little time to get in sync after an extended break which saw Princeton last play on April 30 when it swept a doubleheader from Rider.
"We weren't playing at the top of game in the first two games," said Barron, whose club opened the regional by falling 6-1 to Oklahoma State last Friday. "We weren't sharp. Maybe we were a little rusty from that long layoff. We got better everyday."
Princeton rebounded from the loss to edge Lehigh 3-1 on Saturday, giving the program its first win in NCAA competition since 1996.
"Our goal after losing the first game was to get at least one win," said Barron, who got solid pitching from Erin Snyder in the win over Lehigh.
"Lehigh is a good team; they only lost 10 games this season. They scored a run early but we came back. It was great to see Ty Ries drive in two runs to help give us that win."
In Barron's view, the senior pair of Finley and Ries helped lay the foundation for Princeton's current prowess.
Finley is a four-time All-Ivy performer who was the league's Player of the Year in 2003. The outfielder from London, Ontario holds the program record with 37 homers.
Ries, for her part, has been a two-time honorable mention All-Ivy performer at catcher and has twice been named to the CoSIDA/ESPN, The Magazine District 2 Academic All-America Team.
"I can't even put into words what they have meant for us," declared Barron, who has guided Princeton to Ivy titles in three of the last four seasons and now has an overall 138-101-1 record in her five seasons at the helm.
"They were my first two recruits. They made major contributions and have been great leaders as seniors. They helped build the program. Any success that we have in the near future will be attributable in part to them."
Princeton's future looks bright with a core of returning stars like Snyder, the Ivy League Pitcher of the Year and Schaus, the league's Rookie of the Year, together with honorable mention All-Ivy performers in Cristina Cobb-Adams, Amanda Erickson and Beth Dalmut.
For Barron, it is her returnees' attitude as much as their talent that bodes well for the future.
"We stayed around after we lost to watch the final game between Arizona and Oklahoma State," said Barron.
"OSU lost in eight innings. We are right there. The girls are anxious to get back this fall and get to work. They are already talking about coming back stronger and in better shape than they were at the end of this season."
If the Tigers can get stronger, they may end next season in better shape.