June 11, 2008: Sports
Sports Scores Updated weekly
Down by a run against Cornell in the seventh inning of its last regular-season game April 27, the Princeton softball team still had cause to be confident. The Tigers, playing at home, had come from behind to win a wild 12–11 game earlier in the afternoon, and the three players scheduled to bat — Kathryn Welch ’09, Kelsey Quist ’10, and Jamie Lettire ’10 — were among the Ivy League’s most feared hitters.
But when head coach Trina Salcido talked with Welch, she sensed that the pressure of a tight game was making her star shortstop overanalyze the situation.
“What do you think of me taking the first pitch?” Welch asked.
Salcido, knowing that some of Welch’s best swings come early in her at-bats, told her not to plan ahead. “I think you should just go up there ready to hit and just react,” she said.
The first pitch came toward the plate and Welch reacted, smashing it over the centerfield fence to tie the game. Two batters later, Lettire also hit a home run, giving Princeton a 6–5 win and the Ivy South Division championship.
Princeton would sweep Harvard in the Ivy League Championship Series May 3, paced by two more home runs, and earn a trip to the NCAA Championships for the third time in four years. At the NCAA Regional in Amherst, Mass., the Tiger offense finally stalled. Princeton dropped its two games, falling 6–0 to Massachusetts May 16 and 7–4 to Lehigh May 17.
Power at the plate was a big part of Princeton’s success this season. The Tigers hit 55 home runs, annihilating the school record of 38 set in 2005. But the team also relied on sure-handed fielding and the league’s top strikeout pitcher, Kristen Schaus ’08, who finished her career at the top of the program’s all-time strikeout list with 833.
Princeton’s strong finish contrasted sharply with the team’s bedeviling spring-break trip to California, in which the Tigers lost 12 of 13 games in nine days. The players remained upbeat, according to Schaus, realizing that half of those losses had come in one-run games and that opponents included softball powers like Stanford, Oklahoma, and California. “We had the sense that we were really capable of accomplishing something and that we had too much talent to let [the losses] get to us,” she said.
The Tigers swept doubleheaders against Dartmouth, Harvard, Yale, and Brown to start the Ivy season and looked positively dominant in an April 12–13 series at Columbia, outscoring the Lions 37–3 while winning all four games. By the season’s last day, the Tigers were 16–2 in league games and tied for first place in the South Division with Cornell.
Injured relief pitcher Michelle Tolfa ’11 was unavailable for the April 27 doubleheader, so Salcido was relying on Schaus and Lettire to throw complete games. But in the opener, Schaus struggled to control her pitches, allowing seven runs in the first three innings and another four in the fifth. Princeton remained competitive and made what would be the decisive rally in the bottom of the sixth, scoring six runs on a grand slam by Welch and a two-run home run by Lettire.
With Princeton on top 12–11, Schaus finally found her rhythm in the seventh inning, inducing three fly-ball outs to complete the victory. “That was like an out-of-body experience,” she said of her uneven performance. “It was really frustrating for me personally ... but it was easily one of the best days of my four years.”
Schaus and catcher Beth Dalmut ’08, Princeton’s only two seniors, also played on championship teams in 2005 and 2006, and Princeton has won 17 Ivy softball titles, more than any other school. This was the team’s first title since the league expanded its schedule to 20 games and added the best-of-three championship series in 2007.
“We really had to work to win this one, having the playoff series against Harvard and needing to go 18–2 just to get to those games,” Dalmut said. “Knowing that we did that and knowing that we basically dominated the league makes this even more special than the other two years.”
In the quarterfinal round of this year’s NCAA Championships, the Princeton women’s lacrosse team struggled to keep up with top-seeded Northwestern, allowing six goals in the first 12 minutes while replying with just one of its own. The Wildcats, who came into the May 17 game with a 43-game winning streak at home, would build their lead to 11 goals before a late Tiger rally closed the final gap to 18–11.
The loss ended what had been a promising campaign. After a scorching 10–0 start, the Tigers were slowed by injuries to key players and a string of challenging opponents late in the year. The team lost four of its final six regular-season games, but at 12–4, Princeton managed to earn the No. 8 seed in the NCAA Championships, drawing a home game against Vanderbilt in the opening round.
The ninth-seeded Commodores stayed close for much of the contest, but a late surge led the Tigers to a 14–10 victory. Princeton received contributions from what head coach Chris Sailer called her “walking wounded.” Heavily taped Holly McGarvie ’09, who hurt her left knee in the season finale against Georgetown, scored two goals and assisted on a third, while Katie Lewis-Lamonica ’08, who missed the second half of the season with a torn ligament in her right knee, returned to action wearing a brace and scored a goal on her only shot of the game. “They do a great job gutting it out, and they inspire me and their teammates,” Sailer said afterward.
Princeton’s win over Vanderbilt was Sailer’s 28th postseason victory in 22 seasons as the Tigers’ coach. She ranks second in Division-I playoff wins, behind former Maryland and current Navy coach Cindy Timchal, who has 29.
By David Marcus ’92
Five days after Bill Tierney saw his team’s season end with a 6–5 loss at Brown, the Princeton men’s lacrosse coach still could not explain how the Tigers finished 7–6 and missed out on both an Ivy League title and the NCAA playoffs by losing their last two games. “The whole thing is a mystery,” he said. “There is nothing about the season that I can say I’ve experienced before in 34 years of coaching.”
An 11–7 win over Cornell April 19 had portended a happier ending. Princeton played its best game of the season against the Big Red, who were then ranked third in the country. But the Tigers fell 11–9 at Dartmouth the next week, leaving the Brown game as a de facto Ivy League championship. The Bears earned a share of the title with their first win over Princeton since 1994, the last time Brown captured the league crown, despite 13 saves from Tiger goalie Alex Hewit ’08.
Tierney does have reason for optimism next season. Three of his top four scorers return, including Ivy League Rookie of the Year Jack McBride ’11, and he believes his incoming freshman class is as good as any in the country. But the Brown game left Tierney searching for answers. “When you have a team that can beat Cornell and Hofstra and can hang with [Johns] Hopkins and Virginia, it means that you have enough talent and you better re-evaluate yourself,” he said. “What is it that I do that negatively affects my players? Maybe it’s our practices, our approach, our drills, our off-season conditioning — there are so many things.” Then Tierney paused to reflect on a piece of advice he’d received that morning from Julie Shackford, Princeton’s women’s soccer coach. “Or maybe I need to stop ‘catastrophizing.’”
David Marcus ’92 is a frequent PAW contributor.
BASEBALL pitcher Steven Miller ’08’s final start had a rocky beginning: Two walks, an error, a hit batsman, and another walk in the first inning gave Cornell a 2–0 lead April 27. But Miller settled down, striking out 10 Big Red batters in seven innings and never allowing a hit in a 3–2 Princeton victory. Miller was the first Tiger pitcher to throw a complete-game no-hitter since Randy Blevins ’73 in 1973.
MEN’S and WOMEN’S TRACK each finished second to Cornell at the Ivy League Outdoor Heptagonal Championships May 10–11. Five Princeton women placed first in individual events: Jolee VanLeuven ’09, 10,000-meter run; Ashley Higginson ’11, 5,000-meter run; Megan Brandeland ’09, 3,000-meter steeplechase; Jessica Kloss ’09, pole vault; and Isabell von Loga ’11, shot put. Three Tiger men also took top honors: David Nightingale ’08, 5,000-meter run; Alex Pessala ’09, hammer throw; and Eric Plummer ’10, shot put.
WOMEN’S WATER POLO finished third at the CWPA Eastern Championships April 25–27, losing to host Michigan, 7–4, in the semifinals and beating Maryland in the consolation round, 9–2.
In MEN’S and WOMEN’S CREW,
Princeton boats reached the grand finals of the four marquee varsity races
at the Eastern Championships May 17–18. The women’s lightweight
eight, competing in Camden, N.J., finished second to Wisconsin, while
the women’s open eight placed fourth. The men’s lightweight
eight, rowing in Worcester, Mass., placed second to Ivy-champion Cornell.
The men’s heavyweight eight finished third, less than 0.18 seconds
behind second-place Brown.