Monday, May 16, 2022

Off To The Land Of Opportunity

The Princeton softball team began its Sunday knowing that it could be heading home when it was over.

Instead, the Tigers found out that they'll be heading to Arkansas instead.

Princeton won two games where it knew if it lost its season would be over as the Ivy League playoff series unfolded in Princeton against Harvard this weekend. The reward was a spot in the NCAA tournament, whose pairings now see the Tigers taking on Arkansas Friday at 6 Eastern in a regional that also includes Oregon or Wichita State.

There's nothing in college sports like a good NCAA selection reaction, right? 

 The Ivy League playoff was originally scheduled for a single game Friday and then two Sunday (with the second one obviously if necessary). Because of the forecast for rain Saturday, it was moved to two Friday and then one Saturday if necessary.

Game 1 looked like it was going to Harvard when the Crimson led 2-0 into the bottom of the seventh, only to see Princeton tie it 2-2 when Lauren Sablone tripled home Cate Bade and then Serena Starks doubled home Sablone. 

It stayed that way until Harvard put up three in the top of the 10th and then closed out the Tigers, winning 5-2. Would Harvard pull off the sweep? Nope. This time, Sablone snapped a 4-4 tie in the sixth with a two-run home run, and Princeton would add two more for an 8-4 win. 

This set up a winner-take-all situation Saturday. Princeton got on top 3-0 in the bottom of the first, with a  two-RBI double from Ali Blanchard as the big hit. 

Ah, but remember the rainy forecast? It turned out to be true. It rained in the morning, paused ever so briefly, and then erupted, pouring down pretty much all afternoon. And so, the rest of the game was postponed, pushed back until yesterday, when the forecast was much better.

As it turned out, it was warm with no rain. The game picked up where it was stopped from the rain, which meant the Tigers had their three-run lead, and from there it became a 6-1 win to take the series. Alexis Laudenslager went all seven innings, allowing three hits and striking out six.

The NCAA selections were announced last night at 7, and that's where Princeton learned its draw. Out of curiosity, TigerBlog wonders what would have happened had Princeton and Harvard not been able to finish yesterday because of rain? Would the selection just have said "Ivy wnner?"

The challenge this week is significant. Arkansas went 44-9 this year, including 19-5 in the SEC to win the championship. Any time you have "SEC" and "championship" on your resume, that's gets your attention. Arkansas also won the SEC tournament, making it equally as impressive. This is the first time Arkansas has been the SEC champion, by the way.

Arkansas' roster is loaded with players from the South and West. There is no player on the team from the Northeast or North. What jumps off the stat sheet? Arkansas has hit 102 home runs as a team; Princeton has hit 15. On the other hand, Princeton has only allowed five all year. Arkansas has allowed 46. 

Going by total home runs, Arkansas ranks fourth in Division I. Going by home runs per game, the Razorbacks are third. Who is second in both? Wichita State.

Also by the way, the Razorbacks' stadium looks like a nice place to play. See HERE.

Arkansas was ranked fourth last week in the coaches' pole. Oregon is also a top 25 team (22nd actually). 

Princeton has been the most successful Ivy League program in softball, with 20 championships all time. No other program has more than eight.

Princeton has played in the Women's College World Series twice, back in 1995 and 1996. The Tigers most recently have been to the NCAA in 2017.

There was a lot on the line yesterday, and because of Saturday's rain, there was a lot of time to think about it. Laudenslager had it under control once things got started again.

And now Princeton gets the reward, which is a trip to the NCAA tournament. Win or go home? It turned out to be win and go to Arkansas, whose state nickname, by the way, is the Land of Opportunity.

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