Ultimately, what separates a good team from a great team in any sport is its depth, and on Thursday, the ninth-ranked softball team in the nation, Arizona, demonstrated exactly why it is a great team.
That’s why it shouldn’t have been surprising that the best player on the field today wasn’t Arizona’s Dejah Mulipola, a hitter who is currently ranked among the top ten in the country in multiple categories. It wasn’t Janelle Meono, Arizona’s star freshman who leads the team in batting average. Instead, it was Malia Martinez, the player ranked last among Arizona’s consistent starters in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and a variety of other categories. She was Stanford’s weakness today — a player who would be a star on nearly any other team in the nation, but who’s merely middle of the pack on a stacked Arizona squad.
Martinez came up to bat three times. In the top of the first, Stanford (22-5, 3-1 Pac-12) was looking strong. After a single from Meono, Stanford secured an out and after walking Mulipola, Stanford earned its second out. Surely, after getting through this part of the lineup, the Cardinal should be able to take care of business with ease, right? Unfortunately, after walking one more to load the bases, Arizona (19-5, 4-2 Pac-12) showed why it’s ranked ninth in the nation, as Martinez hit a grand slam to instantly put the Cardinal in a 4-0 hole, which would prove impossible to dig out of.
Stanford fought back, determined to show that it belongs with the powerhouses of the Pac-12. While its couldn’t get anything going offensively, it fought back on defense in the top of the second, with graduate catcher Montana Dixon throwing out an attempted steal, junior Emily Young grabbing the second out at shortstop and freshman pitcher Regan Krause striking out Mulipola with a 3-2 count.
When Krause wasn’t getting much going on the mound in the top of the third, coach Jessica Allister decided to go with the experienced senior pitcher Maddy Dwyer, who came in facing bases loaded with no outs and promptly struck out the first batter she faced. While she walked the next batter to give the Wildcats another run, she forced a sacrifice fly into left field, which sophomore Sydney Steele had to grab looking into the sunlight, allowing just one runner to tag up to score.
Steele snagged the final out as well to leave two runners stranded for the Wildcats, who had the bases loaded multiple times in the inning. The score at this point was 6-0, and things were looking bleak for the Cardinal.
In the top of the fourth, however, Stanford ended up facing Martinez again with two outs, and the Cardinal was in trouble. Dwyer caught a pop-up before walking the next batter and allowing a single. Graduate third baseman Kristina Inouye had a beautiful grab right over the foul line to secure the second out, but Stanford’s kryptonite came up to bat. Martinez hit her second home run of the day with ease — this time a three-run homer — to give the Wildcats a 9-0 lead.
While the Wildcats didn’t score again from here, the seven total RBIs from Martinez proved impossible to come back from. Of course, it also did help that Stanford did not manage a single hit the entire game, only reaching base on two Arizona errors.
This was a tough start for the Cardinal’s four-game series against the Wildcats, but there’s reason to believe the other games will not be so brutal. For one, sophomore pitcher Alana Vawter will likely be playing in at least one of the upcoming games, which should bring some more firepower to the mound. Secondly, Stanford likely took a lot away from this first real test of the season which should serve it later on in the series.
Stanford plays at home against Arizona in a doubleheader tomorrow, with the first pitch at 3:30 p.m. PT and game two set to begin at 6 p.m. PT.