At the end of the 2012 regular season, the Penn and Cornell softball teams had identical 15-5 conference records, which necessitated a one-game playoff to determine who would win the South Division and advance to the Ivy League Championship Series (ILCS) to face Harvard, victors of the North Division.
The Quakers, 32-15 overall, were on the hunt for their first conference title since 1981. As most coaches do in big-game situations, Head Coach Leslie King, aiming for her second ILCS appearance in six years, turned to her ace: freshman Alexis “AC” Borden.
Heading into the showdown with Cornell, Borden had the best record (23-4) and lowest ERA (1.39) in the Ivy League. She also led the conference in innings pitched (176.2), starts (24), and complete games (22), and was second in strikes (180) and shutouts (6).
Against Columbia the previous week, she pitched every inning of the four-game series and won all four games.
Penn Park played host to the one-game playoff on Saturday, May 5. The Red & Blue won the regular season series against Cornell three games to one (Borden picked up the W in all three). The big, bad Big Red entered the game as the three-time defending South Division champions, and won the Ivy League title two out of the last three seasons.
For everyone involved, it was win or go home.
21 up, 21 down
Borden opened the game with a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the first, a foul out and two fly outs.
In the top of the second, she forced a pop out to short and then struck out two batters. The ball never left the infield.
The first batter she faced in the top of the third hit a line drive to short that looked like a surefire hit, but junior shortstop Stephanie Caso made a SportsCenter-worthy diving catch to keep Borden’s bid alive. The second batter hit a liner right back to Borden, who snagged it for out No. 2. The third batter struck out swinging.
Freshman outfielder Sydney Turchin scored in the bottom on the third, on a suicide squeeze bunt by sophomore third baseman Kayla Dahlerbruch, to give the Quakers a 1-0 lead.
Back at it in the top of the fourth, Borden forced batter No. 1 to foul out to right field. Batter No. 2 struck out swinging. Batter No. 3 popped out to second base.
Borden’s dominance continued in the fifth. She struck out one and forced ground outs to third and second.
The sixth inning, Borden recently told Penn Today, is when she noticed her teammates acting strange. She overhead them saying, “Don’t tell her, you’ll jinx it,” but she was locked in to the game and wasn’t sure what they were talking about. She pitched another 1-2-3 inning, two ground outs and a fly out.
The Quakers scored three runs in the bottom of the sixth to increase their lead to 4-0. Sophomore outfielder Elysse Gorney doubled to left center with the based loaded, which knocked in Turchin from first, senior second baseman Justine Payne from second, and junior outfielder Samantha Erosa from third.
By the seventh inning, Borden finally realized what the fuss was about—she was three outs away from a perfect game. Steely, she forced the first batter to foul out to first base. The second batter struck out swinging. The third batter hit a skying shot to left field, which curved into foul territory and looked like it was headed for the stands, but Turchin made the catch for the third out, inches away from crashing into the wall. Penn Park erupted, Borden was mobbed by her teammates, and she entered the record books with the first perfect game in school history.
Speaking with the Penn Sports Network after the game, Borden was cool, calm, humble, and collected, and more focused on the next matchup against Harvard in the ILCS than her historic feat.
“It seemed kind of like just another day at the office,” she said recently, reflecting on her accomplishment. “The goal is to get it done on the field, do what you can for your team. The records kind of just come as a byproduct of just doing your job. You’re never after breaking records, you’re after championships, so that was always my goal. The records just came with me having the mindset of getting my job done and doing what I could to help the team out. If that meant a perfect game in the end, then that’s what happened. But the goal is always just to win games and win championships.”
History in the making
The Quakers’ 2012 season did not have a storybook ending. They fell to Harvard two games to none in the Ivy League Championship Series. Borden started both contests. She gave up only three hits and one run in Game 1, but Harvard’s Rachel Brown, the reigning Ivy League Pitcher of the Year, held Penn scoreless. Harvard won Game 2 5-2.
But…Penn did win the Ivy League championship the following season. The Red & Blue made a return trip to the ILCS and defeated Dartmouth two games to one.
Borden pitched in all three contests, including a one-hit complete game shutout in the first game and a 3-2 win in the third and decisive game. For the first time in school history, Penn advanced to the NCAA Regionals, where they took on No. 16-ranked Texas A&M and Arizona.
Penn and Dartmouth would meet again in the 2014 and 2015 Ivy League Championship Series, with the Big Green taking both titles.
Borden finished her career as the most decorated pitcher in Penn softball history. She was Ivy League Rookie of the Year, a two-time unanimous First-Team All-Ivy selection, and a two-time Second-Team All-Ivy honoree. She is the Red & Blue’s all-time leader in complete games (79), innings pitched (680.2), starts (103), wins (64), and strikeouts (643), and her 2.30 ERA is second all-time.
In Ivy League history, she is one of only six pitchers with 600 or more strikeouts, and her 64 wins are eighth all-time.
The pitching’s the thing
A native of Yorba Linda, California, Borden was a biology major on the premed track while at Penn. She graduated from the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine in May of 2020, and is currently completing her OB/GYN residency at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.
She says she doesn’t remember much about her perfect game, but the play that sticks out the most is Caso’s diving catch in the top of the third.
“It was a really tough play,” Borden says. “It was a pretty amazing play she made.”
After the game, she says Caso came up to her and said, “That was for you. I couldn’t be the reason why you didn’t have a perfect game.”
King, the softball coach, remembers Borden’s perfect game quite well. She says she does not think Borden had a two-ball count the entire game.
“It was quite the occasion for her to rise to,” King says.
Coming out of high school, King says Borden was one of the top 30 pitchers in her class, and the softball team was very fortunate to get such a gifted player and difference-maker.
“She came in extremely talented, threw the ball hard, moved the ball well,” King says. “In our game, even more so than baseball, it’s all about pitching. If you have a pitcher that can contain the opposition, you always have a chance to win, and she gave us that every time she took the field.”