In an abrupt and somewhat unexpected way, the Stanford softball team was eliminated from the 64-team NCAA Tournament on Saturday after back-to-back losses to Hawaii and Texas Tech.
The Cardinal finishes the season with an overall record of 37-19, which includes its 1-2 mark in the NCAA Tournament and a conference record of 8-13, good for a tie for sixth place in the Pac-10.
Stanford’s losses were also surprising given that the Cardinal had home-field advantage. Though Hawaii was the only seeded team in the Stanford Regional, earning the tournament’s final seed at No. 16, the Cardinal was ranked higher than the Rainbow Wahine in both major national polls. Those two factors combined to make Stanford the favorite to win the regional and advance to one of next weekend’s Super Regionals.
However, signs of trouble emerged in the Card’s first game of the weekend on Friday night against Texas Tech. Stanford was heavily favored to beat the Red Raiders, but was only able to eke out a close 5-4 win.
Stanford’s offensive performance was powered by two two-run home runs, one off the bat of senior left fielder Alissa Haber, and the second from sophomore first baseman Jenna Becerra. Haber went 1-4 with two RBIs overall, while Becerra went 2-2 with a walk.
While the Cardinal offense performed adequately, its pitching and defense left something to be desired. Junior starting pitcher Ashley Chinn, who threw the whole game, allowed four runs on seven hits. She also gave up four walks while striking out four batters.
More damaging for Stanford was its defensive lapses. Sophomore second baseman Ashley Hansen and freshman shortstop Jenna Rich both made critical errors in the game, with Rich’s error leading to a Texas Tech run.
Stanford’s problems continued on Saturday. It started the day against Hawaii, which had beaten the regional’s fourth team, UC-Davis, on Friday afternoon. Under the format of the regional, the winner would move on to Sunday’s game while the loser would play an elimination game at night.
Though neither its offense nor its defense had poor performances, neither unit was able to carry the game for Stanford. It fell to the Rainbow Wahine by a score of 6-3.
Chinn, starting once again for Stanford, pitched all seven innings and gave up 10 hits, taking the loss. Her pitching appeared to improve as the game went on – she gave up six runs in the first three innings, but settled in and shut down Hawaii for the next four.
Unfortunately for Stanford, its offense continued to show the inconsistency and lack of clutch hitting that has plagued it all season. It left six runners on base in the game, most of them in the later innings. The Cardinal especially failed to capitalize on opportunities in the fifth and seventh innings. In the fifth, Stanford had runners on second and third with the heart of its order coming to the plate. However, senior third baseman Shannon Koplitz and Rich both made easy outs, letting Hawaii escape with no damage.
A similar situation arose in the final innings, with runners on first and second with one out. However, a Hansen strikeout and a Koplitz fly ball ended any chance the Card had of coming back.
“We just couldn’t get that final timely hit,” said Stanford head coach John Rittman.
Haber and Becerra led the offense again, going a combined 5-7 with one RBI. The heart of the order – Koplitz, Rich and senior catcher Rosey Neill – was unable to generate any kind of offense, going a combined 0-10.
Stanford’s poor performance continued in its elimination game against Texas Tech. Despite beating the Red Raiders just a day before, the Card was unable to get past them into a rematch with Hawaii. Stanford lost 6-3 for the second time in a row to end its NCAA run.
Chinn had an abysmal performance, pitching for just one inning and giving up four runs before being pulled in favor of Rich. For Chinn, fatigue began to become a factor, as she had pitched full games both earlier in the day and the night before.
After taking the loss for the game, she ends the season with an individual record of 12-10. She faced one hitter in the second, whom she hit with a pitch, before being removed.
Defensive miscues continued to haunt the Card as well. Thanks to errors by Koplitz and Rich, a third of Texas Tech’s runs were unearned.
Offensive inconsistency also came to the fore. Despite getting nine hits, Stanford was held to three runs. Koplitz, Rich and Neill continued to struggle, going 2-11 with an RBI.
In the regional’s final game on Sunday, Hawaii defeated Texas Tech to move on to the NCAA Super Regionals next weekend. The Rainbow Wahine will play a three-game series with No. 1 Alabama, with the winner moving on to the Women’s College World Series.