By Sally Egan
Softball (22-8, 3-3 Pac-12) improved every game it played against ninth-ranked Arizona (22-5, 6-2 Pac-12) — and yet, even its very best wasn’t quite enough, as it fell to the Wildcats 6-1, 5-3 and 2-0 in the final three games of the series.
One of the bright spots was the emergence of freshman Aly Kaneshiro as a designated hitter. Kaneshrio had a batting average of .400 in her limited number of at-bats coming into the weekend, and in this series, her strong hitting continued. The difference this weekend was how she compared to the rest of her teammates. In the first game on Friday, the Cardinal were down 4-0 going into the bottom of the fifth and still hadn’t recorded a hit all series, when Kaneshiro was inserted into the lineup as a pinch hitter. She promptly hit her first career home run, giving Stanford its first hit and first run of the series to make the score 4-1.
Errors by Stanford didn’t help. Just when Stanford seemed to have a spark from this homer, two errors in the top of the sixth led to two unearned runs for the Wildcats to make the game 6-1, which proved impossible for the Cardinal to come back. Stanford did a good job of shutting down Arizona’s known stars in senior catcher Dejah Mulipola, freshman outfielder Janelle Meono and senior shortstop Jessie Harper, holding each player to just one hit in four at-bats each — but Arizona’s breadth proved to be too much, as seven different Wildcats recorded a hit in the game.
In the second game of Friday’s doubleheader, Stanford head coach Jessica Allister made several lineup changes, hoping to build on the spark Kaneshiro brought. Most notably, she started Kaneshiro as the designated hitter, but also inserted graduate Eleni Spirakis, the usual designated hitter, at second base, moved sophomore outfielder Sydney Steele to third base and put junior Emily Klingaman in left field.
Early on this formula seemed to work — the first Wildcat batter was thrown out, freshman pitcher Regan Krause struck out the third batter and Spirakis leaped to secure the final out of the first inning. But Stanford’s offensive woes continued, as the team went 0-for-6 in the first two innings.
Arizona scored its first run in the top of the third to make it a 1-0 ballgame and gain the lead. Stanford’s bats started to warm up after this, as both junior first baseman Emily Schultz and graduate right fielder Teaghan Cowles hit singles — but the rest of the team wasn’t able to capitalize, and both runners were left on base.
A four-run fourth inning by the Wildcats made it seemingly impossible for Stanford to come back, but junior shortstop Emily Young was determined to chip away at the lead and immediately knocked one out of the park along the left-field line to give the Cardinal its first run off the game and make it 5-1.
Stanford kept clawing its way back into the game. The Cardinal didn’t allow any runs in the top of the fifth and started working the bats a bit in the bottom of the fifth. Klingaman hit a single to give the Cardinal a baserunner, and then junior center fielder Taylor Gindlesperger picked the perfect time for an inside-the-park home run, as both she and Klingaman scored to cut Arizona’s lead to just two runs. Stanford couldn’t score any more after this one, though, and the score remained 5-3. Despite the loss, the team and played significantly better in the second half of the game, giving hope that Stanford could steal one game from the Wildcats.
At first, it seemed as though Stanford might pull off the upset on Saturday. Both teams started with a three-and-out, and for the first time this series, the first hit came from the Cardinal, not the Wildcats. Spirakis hit a single in the bottom of the second, which is also the earliest in a game this series Stanford has registered a hit. Stanford reached base again in the bottom of the third when Dixon was hit by a pitch, and then again when Cowles singled to shortstop. The Cardinal couldn’t continue this two-out rally and left both runners on base, but for the first time this series, Stanford was outplaying Arizona.
The Wildcats reached base for the first time in the top of the fourth off a Cardinal error, and that runner ended up being critical, as a double brought her home. Stanford was able to limit the damage, keeping the score at 1-0.
Inning after inning, Stanford played stellar defense and then hit a single or two, but couldn’t quite string together enough hits to score. First it was graduate catcher Montana Dixon throwing out an attempted steal at second followed by a Kaneshiro single in the fifth inning, and then three consecutive outs. Then it was Gindlesperger who hit a nice single in the bottom of the sixth, but was left on base as Stanford remained tantalizingly close to tying or taking the lead.
The lack of scoring caught up to them, as Stanford committed another error in the bottom of the seventh, which ended up leading to another unearned run. The Cardinal was unable to score one final time, making the final score 2-0, with both runs being unearned. On the positive side, this was just the third time all season the Wildcats had been held without an earned run, a testament to sophomore pitcher Alana Vawter’s strong play against one of the best offenses in the country.
Though it was a tough weekend, Stanford will learn from this first test against a ranked team. The Cardinal immediately has a shot at redemption this weekend, as it hits the road to play No. 14 Arizona State (21-9, 4-5 Pac-12), another tough Pac-12 foe. Game one of the series is Friday at 6:30 p.m. PT in Tempe, AZ.