PHILADELPHIA - Coming into the 2007 season, expectations were high for the Penn softball team. The 2006 team was one of the best ever, breaking almost every offensive record in school history. The team’s 18 wins tied for the most in school history, and with only two seniors graduating and all of the starters returning, the outlook was a positive one for the Quakers. That optimism was reflected in Head Coach Leslie King’s expectations for the season.
“I expect this program to have its first winning season in 26 years!” King said in February. “The three seasons I have had here have been a steep and sometimes bumpy climb, but I believe with the senior-heavy team we have, their determination and leadership will take this team far. I believe this season will set the tone for future teams. I know this team is ready to win and expects to win. I believe we can take the League title. Why not us?”
The Quakers certainly had the line-up to make a run for the title. Ten seniors were coming back for their final season, including All-Ivy honorees Julia Cheney, Kaelin Ainley, Stephanie Reichert and Brandi King. Those seniors were joined by two standout juniors set to anchor the infield: the 2006 Ivy League Player of the Year, Christina Khosravi at shortstop, and first-team All-Ivy second baseman Annie Kinsey. The pitching staff had a strong group as well, led by sophomore Emily Denstedt, who had tied the all-time win record at Penn. And three promising freshmen were coming in to help the bullpen and the outfield.
Spring Break Success
Penn’s spring break trip was one of the most successful in recent history. Facing teams from across the nation, the Red and Blue went 5-5, with wins over some big teams.
The Quakers got the week started with a 3-0 loss to Saint Peter’s, but bounced back to earn a 7-6 win over Western Carolina, a team who had won more than 40 games in 2006. The success continued on day two, as Penn’s offense scored 23 runs in two games. In the first match-up of the day, Penn took a 13-1 lead over Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne, before defensive errors closed the gap. The Quakers managed to come out of the game with a 14-9 win, and didn’t let the second game get as close. They beat Valparaiso by a resounding score of 9-1.
Inconsistency plagued the Quakers throughout the trip. On March 7, they took on Holy Cross and won 4-1, despite chances to score more runs. In the second game of the day, against Maine, Penn took an early lead, but couldn’t hold on to it, as more defensive errors caused a 6-3 loss to the Black Bears. The next day, Valparaiso got their revenge on the Quakers, 4-2. And against Lehigh, Penn lost 3-1, as Lehigh’s pitcher threw a no-hitter. Errors caused another loss for Penn on the last day of play, as they fell to South Dakota State, 3-2. But Penn bounced back in the last game of the trip, coming out with a big 10-2 win over Fairleigh Dickinson.
The Quakers opened up their season at home March 14 with Delaware, a team Penn had not beaten in four years. Penn was ready to change their recent history, and did, sweeping the Blue Hens, 6-4 and 5-4. A week later, the Quakers improved to 8-6, as they split with Lafayette, losing the first game 6-5, but winning in the second, 5-0. Senior pitchers Olivia Mauro and Erin Boyle combined for the shutout, allowing only three hits in seven innings. In its last doubleheader before the Ivy schedule started, Penn started to slide, dropping two to Lehigh.
Ivy League Slate
The Ivy League schedule changed for Penn in 2007; the League adopted the same format that baseball uses, dividing the eight teams up into two divisions. Penn joined Columbia, Cornell and Princeton in the South Division, while Brown, Dartmouth, Harvard and Yale made up the North Division. Emphasis in the schedule is on division play, as each team played two doubleheaders against division rivals, as opposed to a single doubleheader against teams in the opposing division.
So Penn’s Ivy opener against Columbia had important implications right from the start. Recent history leaned toward Columbia; in 2006, the Lions beat the Quakers by a combined score of 17-1. But this was a Red and Blue squad that was ready to forget the past, and start blazing its own way. On March 25, the Quakers started to do that, as they swept the Lions in the first doubleheader, winning 11-6 and 3-1. Struggles with pitching caused problems for Columbia, and Penn managed to complete the sweep, winning the second doubleheader 5-4 and 13-5.
Up next, the Quakers traveled north to take on Harvard and Dartmouth in back-to-back doubleheaders. In Cambridge, the Crimson outlasted the Quakers, winning both games, 6-3 and 9-6. Pitching and defensive errors proved to be problems for Penn, as the Red and Blue struggled to maintain consistency. But scoring runs was not a problem, as their wins at Dartmouth would prove. The Quakers traveled to New Hampshire to sweep the Big Green, outscoring them 25-4. Penn won the first game 14-0, as Melissa Haffner, Khosravi and Kinsey all hit home runs, and Denstedt pitched a complete-game shutout, allowing only five hits. In the second game, Khosravi hit her second homer of the day, helping the Quakers to an 11-4 win.
Penn improved to 9-3 in the Ivy League after a split with Yale and a sweep of Brown. Against the Bears, the Quakers won the first game, 3-2, and the second, 14-6. Reichert had a home run in each game, and Cheney had a three-run homer in the second game, her second in as many days.
With most of the Ivy schedule under their belt, the Quakers took a break to face Big 5-rival Villanova on April 10. Penn won the first game, 6-5, when Haffner hit a walk-off single to win the game in the bottom of the seventh inning. The second game went to the Wildcats, as they led 7-4 in the sixth inning when the game was called due to darkness. With the frustrating loss behind them, the Red and Blue refocused on the Ivies, as division rival Cornell was coming to Warren Field. After a 4-0 loss in the first game, Penn rebounded to win the second game of the opening doubleheader, 6-5. Kinsey hit two home runs to help lead the Quakers to their first win over the Big Red in Coach King’s career. The second doubleheader came four days later, on April 18, due to weather postponements. But the down time only helped the Quakers gain momentum, as they swept the Big Red, 7-1 and 5-4. In the first game, Khosravi and Cheney hit home runs in the same inning to open up the game for Penn. Denstedt pitched a complete first game, and came in to pitch the last two innings of the second game to get both wins. With the second win, the Quakers guaranteed themselves a winning record, the first in school history.
After dropping two games to city rival Drexel, the Red and Blue shifted focus to four of the most important games of their season: back-to-back doubleheaders with division rival Princeton. Going into the weekend, Penn was in first place in the South Division, with a 12-4 record. But Cornell and Princeton were right behind, tied at second with identical 8-4 records. History was on the side of the Tigers going into the match-up; Princeton led the all-time series 45-2. The only times Penn had beaten Princeton came in 2000, and before that, 1991.
But in step with the rest of their season, the Quakers came out swinging on April 21, beating Princeton for only the third time in school history, by a score of 11-1 in the first game. Though they dropped the second game 6-3, they came back the next day to take win number two over the Tigers, 6-3. Senior Teresa Leyden had a home run in the game to help assure Penn’s win, the first of her collegiate career. Though the Red and Blue lost the second game by a close 4-3, the split was enough to keep Penn on top of the South Division for at least another week. The loss marked the last regular-season game for the Quakers. They finished the year with a 23-17 overall record, and a 14-6 Ivy League mark, the best in school history.
South Division Drama
Though its regular season was over, Penn’s postseason future was still up in the air; first place in the South Division was still up for grabs. The Red and Blue had a temporary hold on first place in the division at 14-6. But Cornell, who was second at 11-5, and Princeton, who was third at 10-6, still had to face off in their two doubleheaders, leaving the Quakers’ postseason hopes up in the air.
The Red and Blue needed the Tigers to win at least one game to ensure a shot at the championship series; if Cornell swept Princeton, they would take sole possession of first and leave Penn in the dust.
The Tigers helped the Quakers out in an odd twist of fate for the longtime Ivy rivals, beating Cornell in the first game of the doubleheader, 9-2. The Big Red came back in the second game to win, 12-10, eliminating the Tigers from the race. The next doubleheader started at noon the following day, and again, it was Princeton who gave Penn exactly what they needed: a 4-1 defeat of Cornell in the first game. With Princeton’s second win, the Quakers won the South Division crown and a chance to play for the Ivy title next weekend. Cornell won the second game, 5-2, but the damage was done.
Ivy League Championship Series
On Saturday, May 5, the Quakers headed to Cambridge to take on North Division Champion Harvard in the first-ever Ivy League Softball Championship Series. Though the Crimson had swept the Red and Blue in the regular season, Penn held out hope that the postseason would have a different ending. But strong pitching, combined with a rusty Penn lineup, spelled trouble for the Quakers. Exams had kept the offensively-minded Red and Blue lineup off the diamond, and it showed in the first game. It didn’t help that Harvard’s Shelly Madick threw a complete game no-hitter, shutting out Penn 4-0 for the win. In the second game, the bats came alive for Penn, but the Quakers couldn’t overcome the Crimson, and lost 4-2.
Despite a disappointing end to their Ivy season, the Red and Blue finished the year as the best team in Penn softball history. As a team, they set program records for wins in a season (23), runs scored (231), doubles (68), home runs (46), RBI (216), and slugging percentage (.494). Their team batting average of .301 was the second best in program history.
Penn also made a name for itself on a national level. The Quakers’ defense led the nation in double plays per game (0.60) for almost the entire season. The team was also atop the Ivy League in multiple categories. The Quakers led the league in slugging percentage, on-base percentage (.378) and home runs, and were second in the Ancient Eight in batting average, runs, doubles, and RBI. But the real measure of success for this squad was the improvement they saw from the 2006 season, both offensively and in the circle. The team scored 43 more runs, had 20 more home runs, 47 more RBI and improved their slugging percentage, batting average and on-base percentage. The pitching staff’s ERA went down 1.18, as they allowed 38 fewer hits, 40 fewer runs, and 16 fewer home runs.
With the best season in program history came some of the highest individual honors the program has ever seen. Penn had nine All-Ivy honorees, the most in program history, and the most in the Ivy League.
Annie Kinsey, Emily Denstedt, Kaelin Ainley and Julia Cheney were selected to be first-team All-Ivy, while Brandi King, Melissa Haffner and Stephanie Reichert were named to the second team, and Christina Khosravi and Keiko Uraguchi earned honorable mention.
Kinsey was also a unanimous pick for the Ivy League Player of the Year award. She became the second player in as many years to earn Player of the Year honors at Penn, and only the second in program history.
It was one of many accolades that would follow for Kinsey. She was also named to the 2007 Easton All-American second team, the 2007 Louisville Slugger/NFCA Mid-Atlantic All-Region team, unanimous first-team All-Ivy, an Academic All-Ivy selection, and was named to the Philadelphia Inquirer Academic All-Area Softball Team.