Fresh off its first series win over Washington in several years, the Stanford softball team will hit the road this weekend for a crucial Pac-10 showdown with Oregon. The Cardinal and the Ducks are separated by just a game in the crowded conference standings, with Stanford tied for third place and Oregon tied for fifth.
After dispatching the Huskies with a 3-1 win in the series finale last Sunday, the No. 10 Cardinal (36-11, 8-7 Pac-10) maintained the momentum with a 12-0 midweek victory over struggling Santa Clara. The Broncos (6-29) were outmatched and overpowered by senior pitcher Ashley Chinn, who twirled her fifth shutout of the season and improved to 16-3 with a miniscule 1.99 ERA in 26 appearances.
Stanford head coach John Rittman will likely turn to sophomore Teagan Gerhart tonight in the series opener. The Cardinal ace has rebounded nicely from an arm injury that shut her down for the latter half of last season, already topping the 20-win plateau for the second time in her career. Gerhart’s 1.61 ERA is third in the Pac-10, and she is also fourth in wins and third in strikeouts.
She will have to be in top form to slow down the No. 12 Ducks, who have won five of their last six games. Oregon swept rival Oregon State at home in Eugene two weekends ago before nearly sweeping then-No. 9 Arizona on the road.
Oregon head coach Mike White has gotten inspired play from sophomore pitcher Jessica Moore, as well as junior Kelsey Chambers. Moore is 18-7 in the circle and will in all likelihood square off with Gerhart tonight, while Chambers added to her team-leading home run total with two against the Wildcats.
“This weekend it will be very important to come out each day with a lot of energy in order to take the series,” said sophomore second baseman Jenna Rich.
The Cardinal had plenty of energy against Santa Clara, when Rich hit her team-leading ninth home run of the year and Stanford stole two bases to tie the single-season team record, set last year at 82.
Rich’s double-play partner, junior shortstop Ashley Hansen, has cooled off a bit—the two-time All-American’s batting average is down a couple of points to an otherworldly .486, still good enough to lead the Pac-10 by thirty points.
Hansen was recently one of 25 players named to USA Softball’s National Collegiate Player of the Year watch list. She leads the nation in doubles per game and is fifth in batting average.
But one of the real difference-makers this season for the Cardinal has been the improvement of junior Sarah Hassman. The speedy outfielder sets the table in front of Hansen and Rich and has been doing it at a very impressive clip, bumping her batting average up .140 points over last year to .411 with a .517 on-base percentage.
Hassman has also been a demon on the base paths, with a Pac-10-leading 31 steals in just 33 attempts, letting the heart of the Stanford lineup rack up RBI.
If the offense can maintain its record-setting pace—no Stanford softball team has hit over .300 for a season and this year’s squad is currently sitting at .317—the Cardinal should be in good shape to win its fourth series of the year at a critical time of the season
After this weekend’s series at Oregon, Stanford visits Arizona State in the last three games of the year before the NCAA Regionals begin on Thursday, May 19. The Cardinal is still in position to possibly host a regional site, as it did last season, which would be a big boost for Stanford’s hopes for Women’s College World Series.
“At this point in the season, we can’t afford to give any games away,” Rich said. “Our team will need to gain all the momentum we can going into the postseason.
First pitch against the Ducks is scheduled for 6 p.m. tonight, with a 2 p.m. start on Saturday and 12 p.m. finale on Sunday.