May 10, 2017

Tiger Softball Sweeps Harvard in Ivy Series, Aiming to Make Statement at NCAA Regional

ENCORE PERFORMANCE: Princeton University softball pitcher Claire Klausner delivers a pitch against Harvard in the Ivy League Championship Series (ILCS) last Saturday. Senior Klausner pitched a six-hit shutout as Princeton prevailed 1-0 in the opener. The Tigers won the nightcap 13-4 to sweep the best-of-three series and earn their second straight Ivy League crown. Princeton, now 25-18, will learn its NCAA assignment on May 14. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Claire Klausner is affectionately called the “ice woman” by her teammates on the Princeton University softball team and she has come to embrace that nickname.

“I don’t mind it, pitchers are supposed to be composed, no matter what happens,” said senior co-captain Klausner.

Last Saturday as Princeton hosted Harvard in the Ivy League Championship Series (ILCS), Klausner displayed her composure. Taking the circle for the Tigers in the opener of the best-of-three series, righty Klausner hurled a 1-0 shutout, striking out eight and scattering six hits.

“Usually I am more of a rise ball pitcher but this season it hasn’t been working as well,” said Klausner, reflecting on the tense contest which saw the Tigers push across a run in the bottom of the seventh and final inning on an Allison Harvey single to get the win.

“A lot of the down and away pitches worked really well. It was using off speed and not being afraid to throw a tough pitch in a tough situation.”

After Klausner’s gritty effort in the pitcher’s duel, the Tiger bats came alive in the nightcap as Princeton overpowered the Crimson 13-4 to clinch the title and earn the program’s second straight title. The Tigers, now 25-18, will learn their NCAA assignment on May 14.

Winning before a raucous home crowd at the Class of 1895 Field, which mobbed the Princeton players at home plate after Game 2, made the title even sweeter for Klausner and her teammates.

“We talked about it since the beginning of the season and we set a goal,” said Klausner, reflecting on earning home field advantage for the ILCS.

“It was always in our head that we were going to win the Ivy League championship again so our goal was this time we are going to win it at home. It has been really nice to have our fans here. It was fun to win on the road last year but we really wanted the opportunity to show our friends and fans and the rest of the school how good we have gotten.”

For Klausner, coming up big in the final home start of her college career will leave an indelible memory.

“That is awesome, it brings my whole career full circle,” said Klausner.

“I was thinking much more about holding them as well as I could so we could win.”

In the second game, there was no holding back the Princeton offense.

“I think our hitters did really well in the first game, there was a lot of hard contact,” said Klausner.

“They weren’t getting as many balls in gaps. In between games, we talked about how our approach was great and that we are going to start hitting the gaps and keep to our game plan. It is going to fall through and it did.”

In Klausner’s view, getting a second straight Ivy title is the product of a more serious approach to winning on the part of the Tiger program.

“It is amazing, especially since Princeton hadn’t won Ivy League championships in a while until we did it last year,” said Klausner.

“We think of this as the start of a new Princeton softball legacy.”

Having posted a combined record of 11-11 in her first three seasons, Klausner was looking to leave a special legacy this spring.

“I think just having confidence as a pitcher,” said the Klausner, a 5’7 native of Stanford, Calif. who has gone 11-6 in 2017 with a 3.55 ERA.

“In my other years, I progressed from being a little defensive or neutral. My mindset this year is that I am going to be an offensive pitcher, I am going to go after batters.”

Princeton head coach Lisa Van Ackeren was confident that Klausner would go after the Harvard hitters.

“She keeps us in every game because she is as tough as nails. I have to give her credit,” said Van Ackeren.

“Kathleen Duncan from their team threw so well, it was a total pitcher’s duel the whole way.”

Surviving the duel in the opener loosened things up for the Tigers.

“That first win was very important; I think it allowed them to come out and play relaxed in Game 2,” said Van Ackeren.

The hitting of senior star Marissa Reynolds, who went 2-for 3 with two runs and three RBIs in the title clincher on Saturday has been important for Princeton all spring long.

“Marissa just sets the tone with the type of at-bats she has,” said Van Ackeren of Reynolds who is currently hitting a team-high .457.

“Whether she picks up a walk or whether she squares a ball up or hits a double, it doesn’t matter. She is so tough, she really does set the tone for our offense so I have to credit her with that.”

For Van Ackeren, earning a second straight Ivy title has resulted from a sustained commitment to excellence on the part of her players.

“I think it means a lot because the girls who are in the program are not satisfied,” said Van Ackeren.

“We set goals every year. They want to go to a regional and win a game at regional. It is not just about getting there. It is not just about being in a championship; they want more. That is what is really important about it.”

Resilience is another important factor in Princeton’s success. “As we prepared for this weekend, we said this could come in different ways,” said Van Ackeren.

“We didn’t know what kind of games that we are going to see so we shouldn’t be surprised in one way or another. If Harvard goes up, if we go up, we have to play the same way. I think that is what this team does well. They don’t over expect things. If we get beaten one game, it doesn’t mean we can’t come back and win the second. They are prepared for everything and they know they have trained for it.”

Having competed in the NCAA tournament last year should help the Tigers be better prepared for this year’s national tourney.

“That environment is big and emotional,” said Van Ackeren, whose team fell 7-0 to James Madison and 2-1 to Longwood in the 2016 NCAA regional.

“They all understand what that is going to be like and they can prepare the freshmen. I think we will play a little more relaxed in that setting.”

Notwithstanding her ice woman nickname, Klausner is fired up for another shot at the NCAAs.

“We are really excited, we want to go somewhere cool and play some good teams and just battle,” said Klausner.

“An Ivy team hasn’t won a regional game in a while so we want to try to keep tacking on these milestones.”