In the Pac-12, long regarded as the nation’s elite softball conference, opportunities to pick up victories are sometimes hard to come by for the nine member schools. Therefore, when a Pac-12 team is presented with such an opportunity, capitalizing on it will always be of great importance.
Unfortunately for the Stanford Cardinal (23-11, 1-5 Pac-12), three chances to pick up potentially momentous road victories against No. 11 Arizona State (30-5, 4-2 Pac-12) fell by the wayside, as the Sun Devils swept the Cardinal in Tempe, Ariz. last weekend.
With the Card hampered by injuries and missing players in its pitching rotation — and now in the middle of a season-high five-game losing streak — Stanford is in need of some soul-searching, as a season filled with unexpected adversity has quickly become far more challenging over the last week and a half. Losing two out of three to Cal to start Pac-12 play, followed by ASU’s sweep of the Cardinal this past weekend, has left Stanford with an RPI of 44, in need of some marquee victories to bolster its résumé.
In two out of the three games this weekend, Stanford was able to achieve a significant amount of success at the plate against the Sun Devil rotation of Dallas Escobedo and Mackenzie Popescue. However, the Cardinal were unable to protect 2-run and 3-run leads in the bottom of the seventh inning of these contests against a potent ASU lineup, falling to the Sun Devils by 16-15 and 7-5 margins on Saturday and Monday, respectively.
Jessica Plaza was a particularly important part of these two strong offensive showings against Arizona State. The sophomore from Huntington Beach, Calif., went 5-for-9 with 3 RBI and 2 home runs on Saturday and Monday in the two close losses to ASU. In Saturday’s 16-15 defeat, Plaza first got on the scoresheet in the top of the fourth inning, when she blasted a 2-run home run to left field off of Escobedo to cut the Card’s deficit to 6-5. Plaza later recorded singles in the sixth, seventh and ninth innings of the Cardinal’s extra-inning defeat.
Subsequently, in Monday’s series finale, the 2013 All Pac-12 Honorable Mention selection crushed her second home run of the weekend to straightaway center field to help give Stanford a 1-0 lead. Afterward, Plaza celebrated her sixth home run of the season by performing a memorable version of the Nae Nae dance with her teammates. For the season, Plaza is hitting .338 in 71 at-bats, while leading her team in slugging percentage with a .648 mark.
Freshman Kylie Sorenson also shined at the plate in Saturday night’s thriller against the Sun Devils, posting 5 RBI and scoring 3 runs in the Card’s losing effort. Sorenson’s game to remember began in the top of the first inning with a two-run home run to right-center field, which helped give Stanford an early 2-0 lead. Sorenson then notched an RBI double in the top of the fifth, scoring senior Corey Hanewich and cutting into the Sun Devil lead. Finally, the Stevenson Ranch, Calif. product helped sustain a furious seventh-inning rally by the Cardinal, plating two more runs to trim the ASU advantage to a single run at the time.
In the circle, the Cardinal had a weekend to forget, as the Sun Devils dropped a combined 32 runs on the Card in its 16-15, 9-0 and 7-5 victories. While freshman Madi Schreyer continues to keep the Cardinal pitching rotation afloat in the absence of Carley Hoover and Nyree White, the Woodinville, Wash. native was worn down by a relentless Sun Devil lineup in consecutive starts. In five innings of work on Saturday, Schreyer was tagged for 13 runs, 13 hits and 7 walks, as three Sun Devils recorded at least 3 RBI apiece in the slugfest.
Furthermore, the 2012 Washington State Gatorade Player of the Year faded late in her start on Monday, giving up five runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to Arizona State, as the Sun Devils came back to stun the Cardinal 7-5. In particular, Cheyenne Coyle’s walk-off, three-run home run to left field capped a nightmarish half-inning for Stanford, which gave away its chance to win the game with consecutive errors by Schreyer and Erin Ashby.
Stanford returns to action on Friday with a non-conference matchup in Stockton, Calif. against the Pacific Tigers (11-18), followed by a Tuesday afternoon showdown with Bay Area rival San Jose State (17-13).
Contact David Cohn at dmcohn ‘at’ stanford.edu.