With each victory the Stanford softball team has notched over last two weeks, the recognition for the Cardinal and its ever-increasing winning streak to start the 2014 season has continued to grow. Now, armed with a 12-0 record and a top-15 ranking in both the ESPN.com and USA Today polls, No. 13 Stanford prepares to face its toughest competition of the season so far at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in Cathedral City, Calif. The Card will be one of fourteen top-25 teams participating in the 35-team tournament, which organizers have called the deepest tournament in collegiate softball outside of NCAA postseason play.
The Card will play three out of its five games this weekend in the southern California desert against top-25 teams, including a matchup against No. 2 Tennessee. The Volunteers were the 2013 NCAA runners-up, losing in the Championship Series to the Oklahoma Sooners in two games. This season, Tennessee, like Stanford, has also jumped out to an undefeated mark against its early non-conference slate. The Volunteers (9-0) have largely dominated against weaker opponents. However, Tennessee did pick up a solid 3-2 win at the University of South Florida last weekend against a Bulls squad just outside the top 25 that is receiving votes in both the ESPN.com and USA Today polls.
The Cardinal will also face off against the No. 15 Baylor Bears. The Bears, who narrowly missed out on qualifying for the super-regional round of the NCAA tournament last season, have opened with an 8-2 record in 2014. The Bears have already knocked off one ranked team this year, having defeated former conference rival No. 16 Missouri 2-1 at home last weekend.
Baylor also defeated the University of Alabama-Birmingham 4-2 at home, a team that is currently receiving votes in the USA Today poll. At the same time, the Bears have already lost to one Pac-12 school in No. 3 Washington — the Huskies beat the Bears 7-4 in Baylor’s season opener in Las Vegas. Finally, Baylor suffered a bad home loss at the Getterman Classic to Lipscomb, a team that finished in fourth place in the Atlantic Sun Conference last season.
The Card’s third and final ranked opponent this weekend is No. 23 LSU, which lost in its home regional to Louisiana-Lafayette as the No. 9 seed in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. This season, the Tigers (8-4) have already lost to three top-25 teams: No. 25 Texas, No. 21 Minnesota and No. 19 South Alabama. LSU also suffered a tough 6-5 loss to Penn State. LSU and Stanford have played one common opponent in the Northwestern Wildcats; the Card defeated the Wildcats 4-3 during the Kajikawa Classic, while the Bayou Bengals topped Northwestern in a 4-0 home win.
The Cardinal will face the Syracuse Orange on Sunday morning prior to the Card’s afternoon showdown with Tennessee. The two schools are certainly familiar with each other both on and off the field. Aside from a 2013 trade between Syracuse and Stanford involving the @SUAthletics Twitter handle, the Orange and Cardinal also met on the softball diamond in last season’s Mary Nutter Classic. In the 2013 matchup, Stanford won a 2-1 thriller against Syracuse. This year, the Orange has gotten off to rough 2-3 start to its season, including a 12-3 rout at the hands of McNeese State out of the Southland Conference.
Finally, a Friday morning contest against the Maryland Terrapins will round out the Cardinal’s slate of games this weekend. The Terrapins (1-9) are perhaps the weakest team that the Card will face at the Mary Nutter, as nothing has gone right for Maryland to start its last season in the ACC. The Terrapins have already lost twice to Florida International and once to Florida Atlantic, two teams out of Conference USA. In addition, Maryland has lost twice to Jacksonville of the Atlantic Sun Conference. The Terrapins’ lone win was at South Carolina last Friday.
Stanford will take on Maryland at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, followed by a 3 p.m. showdown with Baylor.
Contact David Cohn at dmcohn ‘at’ stanford.edu.