Stanford opens NCAA Tournament at home against Texas Tech; Hawaii, UC-Davis also in Regional
The No. 17 Stanford softball team’s roller coaster of a season will enter its final stages this weekend, as the Farm plays host to an NCAA Regional. The regional group will pit the Cardinal (36-17, 8-13 Pac-10) against Texas Tech (36-16), UC-Davis (26-27) and No. 21 Hawaii (44-13), the 16th-seeded team overall.
Stanford will enter the tournament after an inconsistent season that saw the team start strong but fade down the stretch.
The Cardinal showed incredible promise early in the season. Prior to the start of conference play, Stanford participated in six tournaments around the country, including two at home. It never lost more than once in each tournament, and ended March with an incredible record of 25-4.
However, Stanford proved incapable of sustaining its momentum against the tough teams of its conference. The Pac-10 is certainly one of college softball’s power conferences, with four teams currently in the top 10 (including unanimous No. 1 Washington, the conference champion).
Though it had a strong start to the season, winning series against both California and Oregon State, things began to unravel in a weekend series against Arizona, which started on April 16. Stanford was swept that weekend, and found itself in a tailspin, going 3-11 over the next four weeks (with two of those wins coming against weaker non-conference opponents).
Perhaps not coincidentally, Stanford’s slide began with the injury to freshman pitcher Teagan Gerhart in the series against the Wildcats. Gerhart had emerged as the Card’s ace, and her loss proved to be a blow that Stanford’s pitching staff took a while to recover from.
Gerhart has not pitched in over a month, but she has played in Stanford’s last few series as a pinch runner and her status is currently reported as “day-to-day.”
The Card was able to regain some momentum last weekend, sweeping Oregon to salvage its season and give itself something positive to build on at NCAAs.
Stanford ended the season tied with the Ducks for sixth out of eight teams in the Pac-10. Every Pac-10 team except for Oregon State earned a berth to the 64-team NCAA Tournament field, with conference champion Washington earning the third seed overall.
For Stanford to be competitive in its regional, its offense will have to overcome the inconsistency problems that have plagued it for much of the season. The lineup did manage to regain some spark against Oregon, but had been anemic against the rest of the conference’s competition.
Senior left fielder Alissa Haber, an All-American, has been the offense’s top performer all season. Her .442 average, .644 slugging percentage and .531 on-base percentage all lead the team. Other offensive standouts include freshman shortstop Jenna Rich, who leads the Card with 12 home runs and 46 RBIs and is second in slugging percentage at .627, and sophomore second baseman Ashley Hansen, who is second in RBIs with 37. On the defensive side, Stanford is led by senior catcher Rosey Neill, who was named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year for the third consecutive season.
In the circle, Stanford only has two true pitchers, Gerhart and junior Ashley Chinn. Prior to her injury, Gerhart had been dominant, posting a record of 22-6 and a 1.65 ERA. Chinn has a record of 11-8 and an ERA of 2.91, but her pitching has steadily improved over the season. She pitched three complete games against the Ducks last weekend, getting credit for the win in each one. Rich has also stepped in at various times during the season, and has a 3-3 record with a 4.98 ERA.
Now, Stanford will vie with the Red Raiders, the Aggies and the Rainbow Wahine to advance. The four teams will compete in a double-elimination bracket over the weekend, with the winner earning a berth into an NCAA Super Regional.
Stanford played both UC-Davis and Hawaii during the regular season. The Cardinal dominated the Aggies, defeating them in both meetings. Stanford and Hawaii also faced off twice in the first tournament of the season, the Paradise Softball Classic in Honolulu, Hawaii. The teams split their two games, with Stanford taking the first and the Rainbow Wahine winning the second.
Stanford will play Texas Tech tonight at 6 p.m. at Smith Family Stadium following UC-Davis vs. Hawaii at 3 p.m. The Red Raiders ended the season in sixth place in the Big 12, with a 7-11 conference record.
After Friday’s game, the rest of the matchups will be determined by each game’s results, with the other regional games taking place on Saturday and Sunday.