April 26, 2023

PU Softball Goes 2-1 in Pivotal Series Against Harvard As Ace Pitcher Laudenslager Sets Tone with One-Hitter

SPECIAL DELIVERY: Princeton University softball star pitcher Alexis Laudenslager fires a pitch in a 2022 game. Last Friday, senior Laudenslager pitched a one-hitter to help Princeton defeat Harvard 4-0 in the opener of a three-game set between the Ivy League frontrunners. A day later, Laudenslager got the win as the Tigers topped the Crimson 8-5 in the first game of a doubleheader. Princeton fell 6-5 in the nightcap as it moved to 21-16 overall and 14-4 Ivy, one game ahead of Harvard in the league standings. The Tigers play a doubleheader at Villanova on April 25 and then conclude Ivy regular season play with a three-game set at Dartmouth with a doubleheader on April 29 and a single game on April 30. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Alexis Laudenslager planned to keep it simple as she took the pitching circle for the Princeton University softball team against Harvard last Friday afternoon in the opener of a pivotal Ivy League three-game set.

“My goal was to throw a lot of strikes,” said Princeton senior right-hander Laudenslager.

“I have played them many times in my career and I have struggled to throw strikes and I knew they would be patient.”

The Tiger ace achieved her goal, hurling a one-hitter with nine strikeouts and one walk in a 4-0 win over the Crimson.

“In the first inning, I think it took me eight pitches to throw  a ball, that was just part of my game plan,” said Laudenslager, a 5’10 native of San Diego, Calif. who threw just 78 pitches in the victory.

“I am throwing a lot more strikes and getting outs in fewer pitches. Sometimes I tend to weed around the zone a little bit when I have two strikes and I have stopped doing that which I think is probably good for my arm health. My rise ball has always been my best pitch and today it just had an extra something with the rivalry.”

With the rivals entering the weekend tied for first in the Ivy standings, winning the opener was a confidence builder for the Tigers.

“It was really, really good for our team, I think it is the difference between feeling really confident and powerful and feeling a little bit on your heels,” said Laudenslager.

“This series has big implications on who might win the league and who might get to host (the Ivy postseason tournament) so we knew we needed to win; now their backs are against the wall instead of ours.”

A day later, Laudenslager got another win as the Tigers topped the Crimson 8-5 in the first game of a doubleheader. Princeton fell 6-5 in the nightcap as it moved to 21-16 overall and 14-4 Ivy, one game ahead of Harvard in the league standings.

Laudenslager has played a key role in Princeton’s success, going 12-8 with a 2.06 ERA and 145 strikeouts in 109 innings.

“I think this year I understand how to sequence pitches a lot better than I did last year,” said Laudenslager, who has hurled three no-hitters this spring and now has a program-record of five.

“I tend to get people to two strikes a lot. I get a lot of fouls. My rise ball is always a good pitch but it is hard to get someone a third time. I think this year, knowing where to put my drop, knowing to get a rise at the bottom of the knees and knowing to throw a change has really helped me.”

With Princeton having gone 16-4 in its last 10 games, Laudenslager believes the Tigers are hard to beat.

“We just want it, we don’t take game days for granted,” sad Laudenslager.

“We enjoy being out here. We just have a lot of fun and enjoy each other’s success too.”

Placing first in the league’s regular season standings and hosting the Ivy postseason tournament would be special for Laudenslager and her classmates.

“It is really important, especially for us seniors,” said Laudenslager, who got just six appearances in 2020 before the season was halted due to the global pandemic and got into two contests in a 2021 season that saw Princeton play only three games due to ongoing COVID concerns.

“We have had really unconventional careers with COVID and the same with the juniors. We want to maximize as many games as we can get on this field.”

Princeton head coach Lisa Van Ackeren liked the way her players took care of business in opener.

“We have not beaten Harvard in the first game in a three-game series in a while; we haven’t started the series in front,” said Van Ackeren.

“Our biggest challenge is day two, just in general. It is a long series, we are not just here for one game but is always good to start with a win. I think that was a really high quality game all around. Today was one of the best games we have had in terms of three parts of the ball.”

Van Ackeren was not surprised to see Laudenslager produce a high quality effort in the circle.

“Alexis loves big moments, that is what makes her great,” said Van Ackeren.

“She rises to the occasion, she is prepared for it and she knows she is going to bring her best stuff. She was really a freshman last year so there weren’t a lot of expectations. She threw a couple of games her freshman year (in 2020) before COVID but not enough to really get meaningful experience. She had a lot of competitive experience last year and now is using that as information so she has got like a sixth sense for things. We do a lot of communication around that (pitch sequence) and work on it to set batters up. We are usually on the same page as far as what we are trying to attack.”

Senior star Serena Starks led the Princeton hitting attack in the opener against the Crimson, going 3-for-4 with two RBIs.

“It is hard to put into words what she does for our team, she is just so grounded even when she doesn’t get results,” said Van Ackeren of Starks who is hitting .406 with 30 runs and 54 hits, team-highs in each category.

“She had tons of results today but even when she doesn’t, the team just feels good watching her at bats, watching how she approaches things and how she recovers from things. She is special.”

In the view of Van Ackeren, the Tigers are peaking at the right time.

“We have been talking about it from the beginning, with playing a tough schedule and being prepared for the end of the year,” said Van Ackeren, whose team plays a doubleheader at Villanova on April 25 and then concludes Ivy regular season play with a three-game set at Dartmouth with a doubleheader on April 29 and a single game on April 30.

We are just going to keep getting better, things are coming together at the right time. You want to be playing your best in late April and early May, that is what we are after.”

With Princeton having clinched a spot in the four-team Ivy tourney with its second win over Harvard, Van Ackeren is hoping the Tigers can hold its lead in the standings and host the event.

“It is make it, host it, we try to keep things in order,” said Van Ackeren, who guided Princeton to the Ivy title last year and an appearance in the NCAA regional which saw it fall 11-0 to Arkansas and 5-4 to Wichita State.

“It would be great, that means we have won the title. It is important to the team. When we are home it means we have won something meaningful so that is important.”

Laudenslager is looking for a meaningful finish to her Tiger career.

“I have loved every moment I have played for Princeton softball, it is bittersweet,” said Laudenslager with tears welling up.

“This is just a really, really special program. For years we have know we were capable of good things. Last year was exciting to show it and this year now with the experience maybe we can do more with it. We can really prove that we belong in any game at any time.”