In his Academy Award-winning song “Lose Yourself,” Eminem raps about taking advantage of a singular opportunity to “seize everything you ever wanted.” For Stanford softball (27-18, 3-12 Pac-12), that one moment for the Cardinal to make their push toward the postseason will take place this weekend at home against the No. 1 Oregon Ducks (41-5, 14-1). Quite simply, this weekend represents a chance for the Card “to capture it or just let it slip.”
With an RPI of 51, Stanford is in need of wins over marquee competition to boost its NCAA tournament resume. A Ducks squad that is in the midst of its finest season in program history would certainly qualify as the type of opponent that the Cardinal need to beat. But at the same time, defeating an Oregon team that has lost once in the month of April is easier said than done.
After a road loss to BYU back on March 25, Oregon has proceeded to dominate its Pac-12 competition, with sweeps against Washington, Oregon State and Cal and a series win over UCLA. The Ducks have notched six run-rule victories in the process, including an 18-0 annihilation of Oregon State.
At the same time, however, the Ducks’ run to No. 1 in the polls coincided with a massive homestand, as Oregon has played only three of its last 16 games on the road, with those road contests coming at struggling OSU. Therefore, while the Ducks represent the Cardinal’s most formidable test this season, Oregon is certainly not infallible. More specifically, Oregon had significant trouble in its most recent game against Portland State, a team that the Card utterly destroyed in two run-rule victories. Although PSU has an RPI of 265, the Ducks needed two home runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to survive against the Vikings and eke out a 4-2 win in Eugene.
Oregon has achieved its monumental success this season with a tremendous balance of hitting and pitching. At the plate, leadoff hitter Courtney Ceo has established herself as a strong contender for the Pac-12 Player of the Year award, as she leads the Pac-12 in batting average by nearly 40 points with a .486 mark. However, the senior from Meadow Vista, California has not simply relied on small ball to get on base, as Ceo also has 12 extra-base hits, including 3 home runs, to go along with 28 RBIs. Finally, Ceo is second on her team in stolen bases, with 10 steals in 14 attempts.
Ceo is joined by fellow senior Alexa Peterson, another key contributor to the Ducks’ potent offensive attack. Peterson, who was a high school teammate of Cardinal infielder Lauren Donovan at South Salem (Oregon) High School, is currently third in the Pac-12 in RBIs, with 51 in 46 games. A 2013 NFCA First Team All-American and NFCA First Team Academic All-American, Peterson has been able to follow up on an extraordinary junior campaign with an equally impressive senior season; the Salem, Oregon, native has hit .367 with a team-leading 10 doubles, 7 home runs and an outstanding .642 slugging percentage.
Finally, the Cardinal pitching rotation will have to be mindful of sophomore Janelle Lindvall. A high school teammate of Cardinal freshman Kylie Sorenson, Lindvall is second on the team in home runs with 10 to go along with a .363 batting average and 36 RBIs. The Stevenson Ranch, California product, like her high school teammate Sorenson, leads her squad in walks with 24 free passes on the season.
In the circle, the Ducks are led by sophomore ace Cheridan Hawkins. Hawkins, an Anderson, California native, leads the Pac-12 in ERA with a dominant 1.41 mark. The 2013 First Team All-Pac-12 selection has also won an astounding 25 games in 33 appearances this year, with 16 complete games in 164.1 innings pitched. Hawkins, who also competed this past summer with the U.S. Women’s National Team, is certainly a “strikeout pitcher,” as the Anderson High School graduate has simply overpowered opposing batters in posting a tremendous 228 strikeouts, good for second in the Pac-12 behind Arizona State star Dallas Escobedo.
Oregon will also turn to Karissa Hovinga to try and contain the Card’s great offense. Hovinga, a junior from Ralston, Nebraska, has been very effective as the second starter for the Ducks, with a 12-1 record in 19 starts and 25 appearances. The Papillion High School grad, who competed with the Canadian National Team in the 2011 ISF World Championships, has yielded a decent .257 opponent batting average in 97 innings of work. However, she has allowed a fair number of extra base-hits, with 10 home runs and 13 doubles charged to Hovinga over the course of the 2014 season.
Stanford and Oregon will face off in three games this weekend at Smith Family Stadium on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Friday night’s contest, which will begin at 7 p.m., will air live on ESPNU. In turn, Saturday’s contest will begin at 1 p.m., while Sunday’s matinee will start at noon.
Contact David Cohn at dmcohn ‘at’ stanford.edu.