By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The Penn softball program has been in existence since 1974. For the first 38 seasons, an appearance in the post-season eluded the Quakers.
However, that changes on Friday night when Penn makes its NCAA Tournament debut, visiting #16 Texas A & M in College Station, Texas, in regional action.
The Quakers are 30-18 and champions of the Ivy League as they have marched through a campaign that has gone almost exactly as they had planned and hoped.
“We had a single-minded goal from day one and that was to win an Ivy League Championship,” Penn head coach Leslie King tells KYW Newsradio. “We came in second last year, we were runners-up to Harvard, and literally since that moment we got on the bus and the sense of disappointment we had then, we’ve been single-minded about getting back there. Not just getting back to the championship series, but to actually win it this year. We’ve had a countdown going, a day-by-day countdown, since the first day of practice, all the way until we opened Ivy play against Harvard. That just kind of put everything into focus and really, really set that goal. And the kids were just awesome, seven seniors had great, great leadership. They weren’t going to be denied and really the only thing I had to do was put on a practice or two. The senior class was going to lead them all the way.”
Penn went 16-4 in the Ancient 8, the 16 wins represening the most in league play in program history. They beat Dartmouth two games to one in the Ivy League championship series to earn this NCAA berth”We have a very talented team, first and foremost,” King says. “We’ve got good hitting, we’ve got very good defense. Defensively we’ve been very, very strong all year. At one point we were in the top-five in the NCAA in fielding percentage. We have a pitcher that could have probably pitched anywhere in the county.”
That pitcher is sophomore Alexis Borden who will be on the mound Friday night against the Aggies. She is 17-10 here in 2013, with a 2.38 ERA.
“I think we’re all pretty excited,” Borden tells KYW Newsradio. “It’s a long time coming, just because last year we kind of ended on a sour note. So to be able to go out this year and win it (the Ivy championship), it’s really exciting and to be able to go to such a prestigious tournament is pretty exciting.”
Borden thinks this team’s success is about much more than what they do on the diamond.
“I think the chemistry our team has, makes our team really unique,” Borden says. “I think because we work so well together, that’s why we are so good. And I think individually we have a lot of talent, but we’re even better as a team.”
Texas A & M is 39-15 and this will be the first-ever meeting between the two schools. Now the regionals are double elimination, and the Penn bracket also includes Baylor and Arizona. It’s a big challenge for the Quakers as they look to extend a season that has already been a huge success.
“This team will always be the first NCAA representative for Penn softball, and that’s something nobody can ever take away from this group,” King says. “So it is very special.”
Penn and Texas A & M get underway at 8:00pm on Friday night.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.