Fresh off a victory at the Stanford Nike Invitational, the No. 14 Stanford softball team hits the road once again to play in the Cathedral City Classic this weekend in Southern California.
The Cardinal (8-3) slipped six spots in the most recent national poll after losing in a big upset last week to unheralded UC-Davis and then being run-ruled by Nevada in one of five tournament games over the weekend. But the team has a chance to climb back up the rankings with a good showing at the Classic.
Stanford coach John Rittman said he was pleased with how his team has thus far responded to the early-season setbacks.
“I like the way our team has handled a couple of tough losses early in the year,” he said. “The high expectations of this program can put some pressure on younger athletes, and I think we’re handling that. Overall [last weekend], we played really well. The one hiccup was the game against Nevada, but we bounced back against a pretty good Bradley team. A little bit of adversity is not a bad thing early in the season.”
With No. 6 Oklahoma on the schedule for Friday night, Stanford is likely to face plenty more of the adversity Rittman talked about. The Sooners are 6-1 after dropping a 1-0 affair to Georgia Tech at the ACC/Big 12/SEC Challenge, but will bring a lot of firepower to the desert.
Catcher Jessica Shults is hitting .565 with a home run and nine RBI, and freshman phenom Lauren Chamberlain has mashed opponent pitching with four home runs and 11 RBI from the leadoff spot.
That could pose a matchup problem for Stanford’s ace Teagan Gerhart, who has been dominant this season, except when giving up runs via the long ball. In order to beat anyone, let alone Oklahoma, Rittman said the pitchers must settle into a real groove.
“I think our pitching needs to be a little more consistent,” he said. “Early in the season, we always start out slow with our pitching. We can’t give away outs with hit batsmen and walks. And we’ve definitely been good in some starts, but shaky in others. I’m really looking for consistency.”
Things won’t be much easier for Stanford’s lineup, however, as the Sooners have All-American Keilani Ricketts in the circle, and she appears to be in top form. Ricketts carries a 3-1 record with a 0.67 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 27 innings. Things don’t get easier when she gets the night off, however, as No. 2 starter Michelle Gascoigne is 3-0 with a 1.29 ERA and 22 strikeouts in just 14 innings.
The Cardinal will need contributions from up and down the lineup, not just from the usual suspects of All-American senior shortstop Ashley Hansen and junior second baseman Jenna Rich—the two have combined for three home runs, 19 RBI, 22 runs and almost half the team’s walks this season.
Freshmen Leah White and Hanna Winter must continue their impressive collegiate debuts this weekend. White raised her batting average to .379 with five hits at the Stanford Nike Invitational, and Winter is batting .395 with a team-leading 15 hits as the starting third baseman.
But for all of the talk about the looming “showdown” between Big 12 and Pac-12 heavyweights, Rittman said he was really hoping his players would slow down and stay focused on the tournament as a whole.
“While we have a lot of leadership in our program, we’ve got a lot of youth as well. The one thing you can’t do in these tournaments is overlook anyone. [Stanford’s first opponent] Long Island typically wins that conference and has got some kids who can really swing the bat. So we can’t look past them to get to Oklahoma. Our upperclassmen will have to do a good job managing all of that pressure and the distractions.”
The Cardinal opens the tourney with a doubleheader against Long Island and Oklahoma, before taking on Long Beach State on Saturday night and New Mexico State and San Diego State on Sunday. The first pitch from Cathedral City on Friday will be at 3:30 p.m.