The No. 11 Stanford softball team (4-1) will play its first home games of the season this weekend when it hosts the Stanford Nike Invitational.
The Cardinal will play five games during the round-robin tournament, including three against teams that participated in last year’s NCAA Tournament.
This tournament should prove to be a good test for a young Cardinal squad still searching for its identity.
Stanford begins the weekend having lost its last outing, the championship game of the Paradise Softball Classic, to the University of Hawaii last Saturday. The defeat came after the Cardinal won its first four games in Hawaii.
Leading the Cardinal offensively in Hawaii were senior catcher Rosey Neill and freshman shortstop Jenna Rich.
Neill leads the team with a .538 batting average, while Rich is hitting .444 and has blasted three home runs hitting in the third spot in the Cardinal lineup.
Rich is excited about having the opportunity to contribute as a freshman to the Cardinal team.
“I’m just honored to be part of this team and I’m trying to contribute to the team anyway that I can,” she said. “I’m flattered.”
In the circle Stanford has been using two pitchers–junior Ashley Chinn and freshman Teagan Gerhart–and will likely continue to this weekend.
Last weekend Chinn started three games, going 2-1 with a 2.47 ERA, while Gerhart went 2-0 with a 2.00 ERA.
Head coach John Rittman is pleased with his pitchers, but also realizes that they have the potential to be better.
“I thought they pitched fairly well, though there are things they need to work on,” he said. “They will make adjustments and improve.”
Stanford plays its first game of the tournament today at 2:30 p.m. against the University of Illinois.
The Fighting Illini (5-0), who played in an NCAA Regional last season, enter the tournament undefeated after sweeping through the UNLV Sportco Kick-off Classic last weekend. Illinois boasts a powerful offense, averaging almost nine runs a game.
That offense is led by speedy second baseman and leadoff hitter Danielle Zymkowitz. She enters the weekend with a .563 batting average and is 4-4 on stolen bases.
In its second game on Friday, Stanford will square off with UC-Riverside (2-2). The Highlanders split a pair of game each with Boise State and the University of San Diego. They are led by the reigning Big West Player of the Week, sophomore Brittany Keener, who is hitting .500 with a .857 slugging percentage.
On Saturday the Cardinal will again play a pair of games, this time against the University of Nevada and Sacramento State.
Nevada had a disappointing opening to its season, going 2-3 at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz. The Wolfpack is expected to compete for the Western Athletic Conference title this season.
Sacramento State (2-4) is led by sophomore infielder Desiree Beltran, who is hitting .500, including a home run.
The Cardinal closes out its tournament with a showdown against No. 17 Fresno State. The Bulldogs (6-0) have only allowed four runs all season. They are led in the circle by junior lefthander Morgan Melloh, who is 3-0 and has a 0.35 ERA.
Rittman is excited about the level of competition that will be coming to the Farm this weekend.
“Illinois is a very good team and will be a test,” he said. “And Fresno State and Nevada are two WAC teams with dominating-type pitchers that will be a challenge for us.”
Stanford’s success or failure this weekend will hinge–as it will all season–in many ways on the play of Rich and Gerhart, two freshmen.
Rich thanks her older teammates for helping her balance the rigors of being a Stanford student-athlete with being successful on the field.
While Rich had a great weekend at the plate last weekend, she struggled with the speed of the game in the field, making three errors. Nonetheless, she understands that she needs to keep working hard, and believes she will still find success.
“The game of softball is based off of failure,” Rich said. “What’s important is how you redeem yourself.”
Rittman, for his part, has confidence in Rich, and plans to continue playing her at shortstop, despite having last year’s starter, sophomore Ashley Hansen, playing second base–a position he sees as being just as important defensively.
How Rich and Hansen play this weekend will have a huge impact on Stanford’s performance in its home opening series. All five games will take place at Smith Family Stadium, beginning with today’s matchup with Illinois.