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.”