Behind dominant pitching and timely hitting, Stanford softball (39-20, 11-13 Pac-12) emerged victorious at the NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional over the weekend, clinching a spot in the Super Regionals for the first time since 2011. It will be Stanford’s first time hosting a Super Regional since 2009.
Following the team’s 3-1 victory over Murray State in Friday’s opening round, the Cardinal took two out of three from the hosts of the Regional, sixth-seed Alabama (44-13, 16-8 SEC) over the next two days to punch their ticket to the next round.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our entire group,” head coach Jessica Allister said. “Unbelievable job today — absolutely unbelievable job.”
Alabama had previously advanced to the Super Regionals in every year of the format’s existence, but junior pitcher Alana Vawter led the charge in slowing the Tide’s roll this year. Vawter threw two complete-game shutouts against the regional hosts.
Her first shutout came on Saturday as the two teams battled to remain in the winner’s bracket of the Regional. Over the course of the seven innings, Vawter allowed just four baserunners and struck out four.
Coupled with a three-run first inning, highlighted by a leadoff triple from senior centerfielder Taylor Gindlesperger, the Cardinal cruised to a 6-0 victory. Four Stanford players had multiple hits while senior shortstop Emily Young contributed three RBIs.
With the win, Stanford needed to win just one game on Sunday while Alabama would need to beat the Cardinal twice in a row.
In Sunday’s opener, the Cardinal turned to sophomore pitcher Regan Krause. Krause, who had yet to pitch in the playoffs, gave the team exactly what they needed — five innings of shutout softball. With Stanford and Alabama trading zeros on the scoreboard, Allister handed the ball back to Vawter in the sixth inning.
After their bats were silenced the day before, the Crimson Tide came alive. Following Vawter’s entrance, five of the next six hitters reached base, and Alabama scored four runs to take the lead. Senior pitcher Molly Millar relieved Vawter and closed the game, but the damage was already done. Alabama pitcher Montana Fouts — who threw every game for the Crimson Tide against Stanford — scattered five hits but kept the Cardinal off the scoreboard in the 4-0 win for her team.
Following Sunday morning’s contest, each team was on the brink of victory and defeat. Both teams, needing just one more win to advance, turned to their aces for the final game of the weekend: Vawter and Fouts.
Before the game, both pitchers had eerily similar stat lines on the season: each sported a 1.94 earned run average in more than 180 innings of work and both had 24 wins. Vawter, however, had given up four runs less than two hours before, while Fouts was coming off a dominant complete-game shutout.
“Short-term memory loss,” Vawter said, when asked how she was able to shake off her prior outing. “Understanding that it’s a long day.”
“Knowing that I can’t do it alone and my teammates have my back the whole entire way absolutely helped me start game two,” she added.
Fouts opened the game with a strong frame, striking out two Stanford hitters. Armed with this “short-term memory” mindset, Vawter quickly found her groove and matched Fouts with an efficient eight-pitch first inning. This inning set the tone for the game — a pitchers’ duel that lasted until late in the contest.
Although the Crimson Tide managed to load the bases in the bottom of the third, a lineout to shortstop ended the inning and kept the score tied at zero. Entering the sixth inning, Alabama and Stanford were both still held scoreless.
“It’s fun. That’s a good softball game.” Allister said of the intensity of the game. “You’ve got two great pitchers going at it — you’ve got hitters digging in and battling.”
In the top of the sixth, Stanford found some momentum with sophomore catcher Aly Kaneshiro at the plate. Following back-to-back singles from Gindlesperger and junior 2B Sydnee Huff as well as a sacrifice bunt by junior right fielder Kaitlyn Lim, the Cardinal had their best scoring opportunity thus far: runners on second and third and one out.
On the first pitch of her at-bat and Fouts’s 85th of the game, Kaneshiro connected for a double that sailed just out of reach of Alabama’s Dallis Goodnight in center field, scoring both Gindlesperger and Huff.
“Honestly, I was just trying to put a good swing on a good pitch,” Kaneshiro said. “I think that’s what I was trying to do all weekend. I didn’t feel too far from it the whole weekend, so I just tried to stick with it.”
When asked if she thought it was going to be a hit off the bat, Allister laughed and said, “I think they’re all hits, and I don’t know how Goodnight catches all of those. What a great game — what a great play.”
Allister added that Gindlesperger would have tagged up for a sacrifice fly if Goodnight did catch the fly ball.
Now pitching with a lead, Vawter came back onto the field in the bottom of the sixth. Despite allowing a leadoff walk, she quickly retired the next three Alabama hitters to send her team back to the plate. Once there, Stanford tacked on four more runs on five hits in the seventh to give the team a six-run cushion.
Vawter returned once more to close out the ball game in the bottom of the seventh.
“I don’t think there are many pitchers in the country who can do what she just did, going against a great offense for the second time in a row,” Allister said of Vawter’s performance. “It speaks to her poise and character and competitiveness — unbelievable.”
Allister also made sure to credit Fouts for her pitching all weekend.
“I think if anybody says, ‘Montana [Fouts] falls apart,’ kick them out,” she said. “Talk about gritty and tough and amazing — what a phenomenal performance. She was still throwing 72 in the last inning there after she’s thrown however much. She’s tough, gritty, competitive — I couldn’t be more impressed with her as a competitor.”
In turn, Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy congratulated the Cardinal following Sunday’s games.
“Congratulations to Stanford on a hell of a weekend. They were great for 14 innings against us,” he said. “Stanford earned it, and I know they will do well next weekend.”
While the team did not know it at the time, Stanford’s Regional win clinched it the opportunity to play at home for one final series. The NCAA Super Regional will be hosted on the Farm at Boyd & Jill Smith Family Stadium.
“I am so proud of the way our team competed this weekend,” Allister said. “We played confident, aggressive, hard-nosed softball. We are thrilled to bring a Super Regional back to Smith Family Stadium and can’t wait to play in front of our fans.”
The Cardinal will face off against Pac-12 foe Oregon State (37-20, 9-15 Pac-12). The Beavers also defeated their regional tournament host this weekend, upsetting No. 11 Tennessee. The only time the two conference opponents played this season came in late March in Corvallis, with Oregon State winning two-out-of-three by scores of 1-0, 4-1 and 1-0.
“It feels incredible to be hosting Super Regionals,” senior 1B Emily Schultz said. “From our freshmen year when we had made the postseason for the first time since 2013, to now as seniors advancing to supers and hosting — it’s something you dream about as a kid playing softball.”
After her first shutout of the weekend, Vawter said the team was trying to “put Stanford softball on the radar.” Now serving as the hosts of an NCAA Super Regional, the Cardinal have made sure of that.
First pitch of the Super Regional at Smith Family Stadium is set for Friday, May 27 at 7:30 p.m. PT.