With the Stanford softball team (25-16, 2-10 Pac-12) having completed the first half of its conference slate, the Cardinal currently sit squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble. As such, it is worthwhile to consider the Card’s tournament profile as they head into the second half of Pac-12 play and the final month of the regular season, since Stanford’s résumé to date will dictate what Stanford needs to do in its remaining 14 games in order to make the postseason.
The Cardinal’s résumé reflects its bubble status, with some nice wins, some missed opportunities and a bad loss that have all given Stanford an RPI of 46.
The Cardinal’s résumé is highlighted by last weekend’s run-rule victory over Washington at home. Currently, that win stands as the Card’s only win over an RPI top-25 squad.
However, three wins against top-50 teams from Stanford’s season-opening flourish at the Kajikawa Classic in February also look very impressive at this point in the season. In particular, the Cardinal’s 9-1 rout of North Carolina State in 5 innings stands out as the Card’s strongest non-conference win to date. In addition, Stanford’s 4-3 defeat of now-ranked Northwestern will also help it in the selection process.
Additionally, the Cardinal’s strong record at home (12-5), coupled with its 21-4 mark against teams ranked outside of the RPI top 50, shows that Stanford has won most of the games that it has been expected to win.
Unfortunately for Stanford, there have been several missed opportunities to bolster its profile for NCAA tournament consideration, as the Cardinal are just 1-11 against RPI top-25 teams. This includes two heartbreaking losses to Arizona State in Tempe, Ariz.; in the series opener, the Card lost 16-15 in an extra-inning thriller, and in the finale, Stanford could not protect a 5-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning, allowing the Sun Devils to score five unanswered for the win.
The Cardinal were also deprived of the opportunity to post an outstanding road win against an RPI top-25 team in the Arizona Wildcats. Once again, the Card was unable to protect a seventh-inning lead in a series finale, falling to the Wildcats by a score of 5-3 in eight innings.
Finally, Stanford’s loss to LSU as part of the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in Cathedral City, Calif. prevented the Cardinal from picking up another signature non-conference win. The Card led the Bayou Bengals by a score of 3-2 entering the top of the seventh inning before the Tigers scored three runs in the top of the frame to steal the contest.
While close one-run losses at South Florida and at home against Cal also hurt the record, the defeats to LSU, Arizona, and Arizona State hurt more, as victories over those squads would have provided a larger boost to the Cardinal’s postseason chances.
While the Cardinal would have liked to have beaten North Dakota State at home during the Louisville Slugger Classic in March, Stanford’s only truly bad loss came in a neutral site game against Central Connecticut State as part of the Under Armour Invitational in Clearwater, Fla. Although CCSU participated in the NCAA tournament last season as the Northeastern Conference champions, the Blue Devils are only 21-12 on the season and sit second in the Northeastern Conference standings, owning an RPI outside the top 150.
In order for the Cardinal to make the postseason for a 17th consecutive year, Stanford will have to pick up some victories against the college softball elite to boost its current mark against RPI top-25 teams.
To that end, the Cardinal will have two more opportunities to square off against squads with RPIs in the top 10 nationally: a home series next weekend against RPI No. 6 Oregon (37-5, 11-1 Pac-12), and a trip to Los Angeles the following week to take on RPI No. 4 UCLA (36-4, 9-3). A split of the six games would do wonders for the Card’s hopes of making the NCAA Tournament, but even taking two out of the six contests would help Stanford’s chances.
The Card can also boost their odds of receiving an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament with strong performances against Utah (18-19, 3-11) in Salt Lake City, and at home against Oregon State (13-23, 3-10) to close out the regular season. The Cardinal must win both series in order to remain a viable contender for a postseason berth, with any additional victories being an added plus.
Finally, Stanford must desperately avoid any more bad losses in its two remaining non-conference games. The Cardinal will host Santa Clara (6-26, 2-4 WCC) this coming Tuesday at Smith Family Stadium, and they will travel to Moraga, Calif. on April 30 to take on Saint Mary’s (18-20, 4-2 WCC). A loss at home to Santa Clara would be absolutely disastrous for the Cardinal’s chances of making the tournament, while a defeat to the Gaels in Moraga would also be viewed as a “bad loss” due to the sub-100 RPI of Saint Mary’s. In essence, both games will be must-wins for the Card.
Therefore, if the Cardinal can accomplish each of these three tasks over the last month of the regular season — upsetting either Oregon or UCLA, taking care of business against Utah and Oregon State and avoiding disaster against Santa Clara and St. Mary’s — there’s a chance Stanford will be “dancing” in the middle of May, with the opportunity to try and leave its mark in the NCAA Tournament.
Contact David Cohn at dmcohn ‘at’ stanford.edu.
For a full breakdown of how the Card has fared against the RPI, click here.