Stanford women’s softball (4-2) will play its first games at the Boyd and Jill Smith Family Stadium of the year as it hosts the 2015 Nike Invitational this weekend.
The Cardinal will enjoy a late start to the tournament on Friday with an afternoon doubleheader against Cal Poly and No. 3/4 Alabama. The field will be covered in red the following day as the Cardinal again play the Crimson Tide at midday on Valentine’s Day, then later move on to a second evening matchup against the University of the Pacific before they close out the tournament on Sunday with an 11 a.m. revenge match against Cal Poly.
Fresh off their season-opening trip to the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Arizona, Stanford will hope to establish some momentum at home this weekend as it launches its campaign to return to the NCAA tournament after failing to qualify last year for the first time in 17 seasons. With conference play figuring to be quite difficult given the depth of the Pac-12, this tournament may provide the Cardinal with a needed chance to make an impression on opponents and NCAA voters if they can hold their ground this weekend.
Alabama in particular should prove a tricky opponent for Stanford to take care of. The Crimson Tide have been strong both offensively and defensively so far this season, outscoring their opponents 44-6 in their opening six games. Sophomore Sydney Littlejohn drew national attention last week when she pitched a perfect game, the holy grail of any softball player, against Eastern Kentucky in her first career start. This feat easily earned her the SEC’s Pitcher of the Week award, and represented only the second time a pitcher had thrown an entire game without conceding a single hit or walk in program history.
Offense has not proved challenging for the Tide either, with the team averaging over seven runs in each of its contests.
Littlejohn and the rest of Alabama’s defenders will be put to the test against Stanford, which has an extremely impressive offense in its own right. The Cardinal returned every starting fielder this season, a considerable luxury given the potency of Stanford’s batting last year. Sophomore Lauren Bertoy has led this squad thus far this year, somewhat unexpectedly becoming a highlight reel by driving in nine runs in just 13 at bats. Junior catcher Jessica Plaza and utility player Kayla Bonstrom have also stepped up early, each getting back to home plate seven times in the opening six matches.
Freshman Victoria Molina and Kaitlin Lagattuta have also augmented the abilities of these returning stars. Molina blasted a two-run home run in her first college at-bat, and Lagattuta smashed a double as she received her first collegiate pitch while the team was trailing North Carolina.
“There are so many great bats, which is a great problem to have from a coaching perspective,” said first-year coach Rachel Hanson. “We have a variety of ways we can construct our [team] without missing a beat and it’s fun to see such athletic plays on a consistent basis.”
Pitching will be a little bit more of a struggle for Hanson. Stanford lost a number of experienced veterans last season to injury and transfer, and the Cardinal have had to call on another true freshman, Hayley Snyder, when resting All-Pac 12 Honorable Mention Madi Schreyer. Fortunately, Snyder is off to a strong start for Stanford, posting a 2.75 ERA in the 20 innings she’s pitched so far and recording the team’s first save of the season against No. RV/25 Texas.
The first pitch of Stanford’s Nike Invitational will be thrown at 10 a.m. between Pacific and Cal Poly, with the Cardinal starting their first game of the day at 3 p.m.
Contact Andrew Mather at amather ‘at’ stanford.edu.