By Sally Egan
Softball (33-22, 9-12 Pac-12) concluded its season on Sunday with a loss to No. 6 Arkansas (43-9, 19-5 SEC) in the Fayetteville Regional of the NCAA softball tournament. The loss most likely marked the end of the collegiate careers of graduate students Nikki Bauer, Teaghan Cowles, Montana Dixon, Kristina Inouye and Eleni Spirakis, as well as senior Maddy Dwyer.
Stanford played its first regional game on Friday against South Dakota State (43-8, 21-1 Summit League). The Cardinal started with an offensive drought, securing no hits in either of the first two innings. Despite the lackluster offense, sophomore pitcher Alana Vawter continued to wow announcers with a slew of strikeouts over the course of the early innings.
South Dakota State got the first runs on the board with a two-run home run in the top of the fourth, just Vawter’s sixth homer given up in 182 innings pitched this season.
Freshman designated hitter Aly Kaneshiro, perhaps the biggest surprise for the Cardinal this season, responded with a solo home run of her own to cut the SDSU lead to just 2-1. However, SDSU came back with yet another two-run home run themselves, giving them a 4-1 lead.
In what quickly turned into a nightmare day for Vawter, with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, freshman first baseman Cylie Halvorson hit her second home run of the day, this time a three-run homer, to extend the Jackrabbits lead to 7-1, where the score would stay the rest of the game as the Cardinal connected for just three hits on offense.
On Saturday, Stanford took on Manhattan (22-16, 17-3 MAAC) in a much easier match-up than the day before. Eight different Cardinal players recorded hits with junior center fielder Taylor Gindlesperger going 3-for-5, Inouye going 3-for-4 and sophomore designated hitter Kaitlyn Lim going 2-for-2, among other strong performances. Inouye and Cowles both recorded two RBIs as Stanford notched an 11-2 victory in their first game on Saturday, keeping its season alive.
The second game on Saturday was a rematch against SDSU with Vawter pitching again, and she was clearly looking to avenge the previous day’s loss. Both teams put on a defensive masterpiece, with SDSU recording five hits and Stanford recording just three once again. The Jackrabbits scored first in the bottom of the third with two outs and the bases loaded, but Stanford shut them down after this, keeping SDSU’s lead at 1-0. Gindlesperger recorded the first hit of the day for the Cardinal on a single. She advanced to second on a wild pitch and then to third on a sacrifice bunt by Spirakis before scoring on another wild pitch to tie the game.
The teams went back and forth but neither could score, sending the game into extra innings. Neither team was able to accomplish anything in the first two extra frames, but in the top of the tenth, Inouye walked and after sophomore pinch runner Sydney Steele stole second, Spirakis doubled with two outs to bring her home and give Stanford a 2-1 lead. SDSU tried to score to tie up the game, but was unable to, giving Stanford the 2-1 victory as Vawter threw nearly 150 pitches.
On Sunday, Stanford entered their game against No. 6 Arkansas (43-9, 19-5 SEC) as a significant underdog, but despite this, the team nearly managed to pull off the upset. Arkansas scored first with a two-run homer in the top of the first. Stanford responded immediately, recording four hits and three runs in the bottom of the first with singles coming from Gindlesperger, junior shortstop Emily Young and sophomore second baseman Sydnee Huff, while junior left fielder Emily Schultz doubled which gave Stanford a 3-2 lead.
Arkansas went on to score two unearned runs in the top of the fourth and then launched a three-run homer in the fifth to put the Cardinal in a 7-3 hole that they couldn’t climb out of. Since Stanford had already lost one game, this second loss eliminated them from the double-elimination tournament.
The graduating senior class is large, with four starters and two pitchers leaving, so Stanford’s underclassmen will have big shoes to fill next year. Luckily, with the emergence of Kaneshiro and Vawter as well as the continued steady play of the junior class, softball should be in good shape to remain competitive next year.