April 3, 2024

Princeton Softball Sweeps 3-Game Set Against Penn, Focusing on Task at Hand in Moving Atop Ivy Standings

GETTING INTO THE SWING: Princeton University softball player Lauren Sablone taking a big swing in a 2023 game. Last weekend, junior outfielder Sablone starred as Princeton swept a three-game series with visiting Penn. Sablone went 5 for 10 with three runs, one RBI, two triples, and a double as the Tigers swept a twinbill from the Quakers on Saturday, winning 8-4 and 5-1, and then posted a 6-3 victory a day later. The Tigers, now 15-9 overall and 4-2 Ivy League, head to Harvard this weekend for a doubleheader on April 6 and a single game on April 7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

After starting its Ivy League campaign with a tough weekend in New York City where it went 1-2 against Columbia, the Princeton University softball team was happy to return to the friendly confines of Strubing Field last week.

On Tuesday, Princeton swept a doubleheader from visiting Rider, prevailing 6-3 and 7-0. Returning to Ivy action for Easter weekend to host Penn, the Tigers went 3-0, sweeping a twinbill from the Quakers on Saturday, winning 8-4 and 5-1 and then posting a 6-3 victory a day later.

“We got bit by the expectation bug against Columbia, a little bit where we were just overanalyzing the expectations we have for ourselves and our team,” said Princeton head coach Lisa Van Ackeren, whose team is now 15-9 overall and 4-2 Ivy and tied with Columbia (9-15 overall, 4-2 Ivy) atop the league standings. “Even just being able to play Rider at home, everybody forgot how fun it is to play at home. That made us look forward to the weekend even more.”

The Tigers had fun against Penn as they kept their attention on the task at hand.

“We played much better and much more focused on what we are good at, just trying to focus internally rather than externally,” said Van Ackeren. “What we did well this weekend was that we were very focused on one game, one pitch at a time. I think that serves us well.”

The Tigers got their bats going early in the weekend, jumping out to a 7-1 lead by the third inning of Game 1 and pounding out 10 hits in the 8-4 win. Sophia Marsalo was 3 for 3 with two runs and one RBI in the victory while Lauren Sablone and Sonia Zhang each had two hits.

“It has been great because we have shown much more consistency offensively this year,” said Van Ackeren.

In the nightcap, junior pitcher Meghan Harrington shut the door on the Quakers, going 6.1 innings, striking out seven and giving up one run on seven hits.

“Harrington had a great day, Meg has grown so much,” said Van Ackeren. “She has always had good stuff, but mentally she has grown so much in the last couple of years. She is so tough and just locked in pitch by pitch. The cool part is that she always comes off a game and is like, ‘I know what I need to do next.’ She wants to keep getting better, she is not complacent or satisfied.”

On Sunday, Princeton started with a bang, getting consecutive homers in the first inning from Julia Dumais and Allison Ha as it took a 3-1 lead.

“I think it came on back-to-back pitches, it was awesome,” said Van Ackeren of the first inning outburst. “Julia has been working really hard this week on her swing and getting extra work in. It was really cool for her to have that moment, she works hard for it.”

Harrington along with Cassidy Shaw and Molly Chambers worked hard in holding off Penn. Shaw got the start and went three innings with Chambers coming in for 1.1 innings and Harrington going 2.2 innings to finish the game and get the win.

“It was a long day on Saturday with two games
and three pitchers,” said Van Ackeren. “They came back ready to do whatever it took to solidify it. I don’t think any of pitchers really had a great day, but they were really mentally tough. We gave up a ton of walks, so we always had baserunners on. They had to work out of jams and we were able to.”

While Van Ackeren was happy with the sweep of the Quakers, she knows her squad has plenty of room to grow.

“I think we have had some good games, I don’t think we have played our best game yet,” said Van Ackeren. “We haven’t put the best version of the pitching, the defense, and the offense all together in one game this year. I think we have more to build toward. One of our captains at the end of the game Sunday said that we got the sweep and we also have a lot we still need to work on. It is exciting.”

Van Ackeren is excited about how the players have come together as they have gotten in Ivy play.

“From a team culture standpoint, we grew a ton the last two weeks,” said Van Ackeren. “Since we came home for spring break, there have been some really huge moments for the team. Every one of my kids played this weekend. Every single person has a role and has the ability to make an impact whether that is a pinch hitter, a pinch runner, or coming in to face two batters. They are all really locked in to doing their job, whatever it is, and do it well.”

The Tiger hitting attack is locked in with junior Sablone batting .373 with two homers and 17 RBIs, freshman Sonia Zhang

hitting .319 with two homers and 13 RBIs, junior
Allison Ha at .314 with two homers and 13 RBIs, sophomore Dumais at .274 with two homers and 12 RBIs, and junior Marsalo up to .268 with 10 RBIs.

“Lauren is having an unbelievable season so far,” said Van Ackeren of the junior outfielder who went 5 for 10 with three runs, 1 RBI, two triples and a double over the weekend. “Zhang has made a huge impact, she has just been so steady. It is hard to do that as a freshman. The fact that she is able to do that in a big role at the top of the lineup has been really impressive. Sophia got going a little bit. Grace Jackson (.233 with 13 runs) had a great weekend, she had a lot of loud outs too. She squared a ton of balls up. Allie Goodwin (.429 with nine hits in 21 at-bats) was an absolute star for us this weekend. She broke back into our starting lineup and made the most of her mid-week opportunities.”

The squad’s pitchers, Harrington (6-3, 3.93 ERA, 43 strikeouts), Shaw (7-5, .418 ERA, 50 strikeouts), Chambers (1-0, 6.44 ERA, 17 strikeouts), and Brielle Wright (1-1, 2.40 ERA, 21 strikeouts) have been steady.

“They are just all prepared to do whatever is needed, they function as a true pitching staff,” said Van Ackeren. “It is not about who gets the glory of one thing or another, they are just doing whatever it takes to have the team’s back. Whatever that looks like on a given day could change but they are going to do what they need to do.”

Senior star reliever Chambers has taken on a leadership role on the staff.

“She has a lot of experience in that spot coming into games with runners on,” said Van Ackeren of Chambers. “She has got a devastating changeup, she just gives such a different look. She has done a great job of it. Molly is really vocal with our staff. She has had mostly a relief role in her career and has embraced that. It has been really good for the younger pitchers on the staff to learn from someone who is really accountable and really bought in.”

Precocious freshman Shaw has certainly bought in. “Cassie just shows a lot of competitive poise; I knew she was competitive, I only recruit competitive pitchers,” said Van Ackeren, a former star pitcher for Lehigh. “I also recruit people that I am going to get along with because if you don’t match my competitive energy, I am not very fun to play for. The competitive poise had been really impressive, she really wants the ball in big moments. She doesn’t shy away from a tough inning or giving up a walk and a hit. It is tough not to let the moment get big and think about things that are not productive. She really locks in and gets the job done.”

With the Tigers resuming Ivy play by heading to Harvard this weekend for a doubleheader on April 6 and a single game on April 7, Van Ackeren is confident her players will keep getting the job done. 

“We can’t wait, we love playing at Harvard,” said Van Ackeren.

“It is a good road test for us. We play competitively on the road because we have to play on the road so much early on. Playing in sometimes else’s home environment and a league rival, adds a little extra sauce and more spice. It is awesome. It is great playing Harvard, there is extra energy for it. The whole school is into it.”