The No. 9 Stanford softball team opens Pac-10 conference play today when it plays host to its rival No. 14 Cal in the first game of a three-game series. The weekend series is being played Thursday to Saturday so as to avoid having to play on Easter Sunday.
Stanford (25-4) enters conference play having won 11 of its last 12 games, with the only loss being a 4-2 decision at the hands of BYU last weekend at the Stanford Invitational.
Although Stanford’s offense has been potent all season, a new star has recently emerged on the team in the form of freshman pitcher Teagan Gerhart.
Teagan Gerhart, the sister of two-sport star Toby Gerhart, began the season as part of a platoon in the circle with junior Ashley Chinn. In the past few weeks, Gerhart has separated herself from Chinn, as the junior has struggled with some of her mechanics.
Gerhart relishes the opportunity to lead one of the best teams in the nation.
“Right now [being the ace] is an awesome experience. It’s great to lead and show this team what I can do,” Gerhart said. “I don’t feel pressure exactly; I’m more just anxious to play. I take it as a challenge.”
For the year Gerhart is 18-3 with a 1.28 earned run average.
Despite her success, Gerhart still expects Chinn to figure out her mechanical problems and contribute later on in the season.
“I knew we would share at the beginning of the season, and I thought she would have the starting role,” Gerhart said. “But right now she is working on some things pitching-wise, and I’m sure she will come around and be a contributor again.”
Supplementing Gerhart’s performances in the circle, which included three consecutive no-hitters, is a powerful Stanford offense. Leading that offense for a fourth consecutive season is senior left fielder Alissa Haber.
Haber is ninth in the nation with a .484 batting average. The three-time All-American and member of the United States National Team has also hit five homeruns and scored 36 runs this year.
Haber, an English major who will be returning to Stanford next year to earn a master’s degree in English, was also recently named one of the ten finalists for the prestigious Lowe’s Senior Class Award, given annually to a student-athlete that excels on the field, in the classroom and in the community.
“The coolest thing about that award as an individual award is that it recognizes not only athletic accomplishments but also my academics,” Haber said. “It is hard to keep that in balance at Stanford. It is nice to have both sides honored and recognized and be seen as not just an athlete but also as a student.”
This being her fourth and final time entering conference play, Haber sees this Stanford team approaching the challenges of the Pac-10 a bit differently than Stanford teams of the past.
“Because we are a lot younger as a team, there is a lot of enthusiasm,” Haber said. “There is a really big desire, a hunger almost, to prove ourselves to the other teams in the Pac-10. It’s an incredibly competitive conference, and we know anyone can win it.”
If Stanford wants to win the conference, it will likely need to get off to a good start with a series win at home against Cal.
The Golden Bears have a potent lineup led by a sophomore speedster, leftfielder Jamia Reid. For the season, Reid is hitting a robust .422 with 39 stolen bases.
In the circle, however, Cal does not have a single ace. Returning starter, senior Marissa Drewrey, has struggled this season with a 5.73 ERA and has been relegated to the bench. In her absence, freshman Jolene Henderson and junior Valerie Arioto have been splitting time. Henderson is a hard thrower, while Arioto has a wider repertoire of pitches. The Cardinal will likely see both pitchers this weekend.
The entire Stanford team seems excited to begin conference play and take on Cal, but likely no one is as excited as Gerhart.
“It will mean a lot to me to play Cal because I actually almost went to Cal,” Gerhart said. “It will be different to pitch against the girls I met and the coaches I almost played for.”
Fortunately for Stanford, Gerhart will be wearing cardinal and white this weekend, not blue and gold, meaning the Cardinal has a good shot at starting the Pac-10 season on the right track.