May 11, 2005: Sports
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The space seems unremarkable: a flat plate of soil 16 feet in diameter, ringed by white chalk, with a slab of hard rubber at its center. But in softball, it is the most important parcel on the field. From inside those boundaries, starting pitchers routinely throw 21 innings a week — triple the amount of their college baseball counterparts — and their ability to consistently shut down opposing hitters often determines the difference between a championship and second place.
For Erin Snyder ’06, one of the most dominant performers in Princeton softball history, the pitcher’s circle is familiar territory. In her first three seasons, she has struck out 515 batters in 4311/3 innings, throwing three perfect games and compiling a 35—23 record. This year, she leads the Ivy League with 13 wins, 179 strikeouts, and a 0.72 earned-run average.
But the circle has not always been a comfortable spot for Snyder. When her coaches first asked her to pitch, as a teenager in San Diego, she refused. “I didn’t want to be the center of attention,” she says.
Snyder remains soft-spoken and reserved, with a preference for working behind the scenes — she plans to go to Hollywood to pursue a career in film editing after college — but she has learned to deal with the spotlight by concentrating on each batter and each pitch. Head Coach Maureen Davies Barron ’97, who won a school-record 83 games in her four years pitching for Princeton, says that Snyder has the competitive mentality pitchers need to be successful. “She’s tougher on herself than I could ever be on her,” Barron says.
So far this season, Snyder has struck out 10 or more batters in 11 of her 17 starts and has not allowed more than three runs in any game. On March 20, she pitched a two-hit shutout against third-ranked Stanford in a 1—0 Princeton win. Against Fairfield March 29, she was unhittable, pitching five perfect innings before the Tigers ended the game early by taking an eight-run lead. (Under NCAA rules, if one team leads by eight or more runs after the fifth inning, the game is called.) She made up for that abbreviated performance by throwing a 10-inning shutout in Princeton’s 1—0 win at Columbia April 9 and another 10 innings a week later against Harvard, striking out 21 and allowing three hits in a 1—0 loss. Snyder rebounded from the Harvard game by pitching a perfect game against Dartmouth April 17, striking out 16 of the 21 batters she faced as Princeton won 5—0.
Like most strikeout pitchers, Snyder has mastered the riseball, a backspin pitch that tricks hitters who expect the ball to gradually drop like a normal fastball. But that’s just the beginning of her repertoire. When Snyder holds an advantage in the strike count, she can snap her wrist over the top of the ball to throw a curveball that slides away from right-handed batters, twist her hand clockwise for a screwball that breaks toward right-handers, or change pace with a peel drop — a slower, sinking pitch that tumbles off her outstretched fingertips.
In intrasquad scrimmages, Snyder’s spins baffle the Tigers’ best hitters. “You can’t go up there thinking about one pitch,” says Melissa Finley ’05, Princeton’s career home-run leader. “You just try not to look silly.”
The only pitcher in the Ivy League who has rivaled Snyder’s dominance this year is Kristen Schaus ’08, Princeton’s second starter. Schaus is second in the league with a 1.27 earned-run average and 169 strikeouts. The two starting pitchers have given up an average of just 1.31 runs per game. Barron credits catcher Ty Ries ’05 with calling pitches that keep opposing hitters off balance.
At bat, the Tigers have complemented their strong pitchers by generating early runs and timely hits late in games. “Every day, it’s somebody else who steps up,” Barron says. “Everyone in the lineup has hit a home run. Everybody has power, and they’ve also done a great job of executing and bunting people over.”
Last season, the Tigers lost three of four games to Harvard and Dartmouth early in the year and never managed to climb back into contention with Cornell and Brown, the eventual co-champions. This April, after winning three of four against Harvard and Dartmouth, the Tigers entered the final weekend of Ivy play at the top of the league standings. “We think of last year as a failure on our part because we just weren’t in it,” Snyder says. “This year, we feel like we have nothing to lose.”
In the season’s first two weeks, the Princeton baseball team lost its first eight games but played about as well as an 0—8 team can play, losing four times by a single run, including once to ninth-ranked North Carolina. When the Tigers’ starting pitchers cycled through their rotation for the third time in late March, Princeton’s fortunes took a dramatic upward turn.
By winning two of three games at Old Dominion, the Tigers started a month-long run that pulled them back near the .500 mark and could help them return to the Ivy League Championship Series for the 10th straight year. Through April 17, the Tigers held a two-game lead over Penn and Cornell in the Ivy’s Lou Gehrig Division.
Princeton’s hot streak was a welcome change for Coach Scott Bradley, who endured a cycle of ups and downs before last year’s talented squad settled into its Ivy championship form. “I almost felt [last year’s team] got bored at times,” Bradley said. “We’d win some games, then we would have a couple [of] sloppy losses, and then when we needed to win, they’d flip it on. This team knows they can’t do that.”
The 2005 Tigers likely will not see five of their players taken in the Major League Baseball draft as last year’s team did (though center fielder Will Venable ’05 and right fielder Andrew Salini ’06 have drawn attention from scouts), and last year’s mammoth offensive production — 6.8 runs per game — has dropped by about a run and a half. But from top to bottom, Princeton has fielded a productive lineup, led by Venable, Salini, and Ryan Eldridge ’06, the second, third, and fourth hitters. Venable and Salini have topped the .400 mark in batting average, and Eldridge leads the team with seven home runs. First baseman Stephen Wendell ’06 (.276 batting average with four home runs) and catcher Zach Wendkos ’06 (.359 batting average) have improved the bottom of the batting order.
“I think it’s possible that we’re stronger [than last year] up and down the lineup, the way everybody is swinging right now,” Salini said after the Tigers bombarded Seton Hall 10-0 on April 12. “We did lose a lot of really good players last year, but we’re starting to get more cohesive as a group. It’s more of a coordinated effort.”
On the mound, Bradley has relied on Gavin Fabian ’07, Eric Stiller ’06, Eric Walz ’07, and Christian Staehely ’08 to make most of the weekend starts, with Brian Kappel ’05 returning as the team’s closer. Stiller has emerged as the team’s most productive pitcher. In one stretch, he threw 24 straight shutout innings, including a win over Brown April 5 in which he allowed three hits and struck out 11.
Lindsey Biles ’05, right, and the women’s lacrosse team scored a season-high 21 goals in Princeton’s April 16 win over Harvard at the Class of 1952 Stadium. Biles netted six goals and assisted on three others, becoming the fourth player in Princeton history to score 200 career points. The Tigers won their sixth consecutive game and improved to 10–2 for the season and 5–0 in the Ivy League.
MEN’S LACROSSE lost 9—8 to Yale April 2 but recovered to edge Penn 6—5 in overtime April 5 and rout Harvard 12—4 April 16. Jason Doneger ’05 scored the game-winner against Penn and added five goals against Harvard.
MEN’S and WOMEN’S GOLF repeated as Ivy League champions with a pair of convincing wins in league tournaments April 15—17. Individual champion Creighton Page ’05 shot rounds of 71, 71, and 68 at the par-72 Ballyowen Golf Club in Hamburg, N.J., to lead the Princeton men to a 31-stroke victory over second-place Cornell. For the Princeton women, Meg Nakamura ’05, Sharla Cloutier ’07, and Avery Kiser ’05 finished second, third, and fourth, respectively, at Maidstone Golf Club in East Hampton, N.Y. Princeton outpaced Yale, its nearest competitor, by 35 strokes.
At the East Coast Athletic Conference championships April 3, WOMEN’S WATER POLO freshman goalkeeper Natalie Kim made 16 saves to lead Princeton in a 7—6 title-game win over Hartwick.
MEN’S and WOMEN’S TENNIS scored 4—3 wins against Dartmouth on April 15. Andrew Lieu ’06 won a third-set tiebreaker in the fifth singles match for the decisive fourth point in the men’s match. Alison Hashmall ’06 and Jessica Siebel ’06 won a pivotal doubles match to help the Princeton women top the Big Green.
WOMEN’S OPEN CREW remained undefeated by beating Yale April 16 in the race for the Eisenberg Cup. The Tigers have won 16 consecutive races in the Ivy League.
Former WOMEN’S HOCKEY goalie Megan Van Beusekom ’04 appeared in three games for the United States at the International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championship in Linkoping, Sweden, April 2—9, helping the U.S. team to its first gold medal in the event.