After a 56-game marathon over the last three months, softball’s second season begins on Friday for No. 13 Stanford (37-19, 13-11 Pac-12) in the regional round of the NCAA tournament.
In the regular season, featuring a fairly young squad with six underclassmen starters that was picked to finish sixth in the pre-season Pac-12 poll, Stanford finished in fourth place in the final conference standings, three games clear of rivals Cal and UCLA.
In addition, the Card secured its first winning record in conference play since 2009, a noteworthy accomplishment given that six Pac-12 teams were ranked in the top 20 of the USA Today/NFCA Coaches poll and eight out of the nine Pac-12 squads earned postseason berths.
However, for all of its success in Pac-12 play, Stanford also had some significant setbacks in non-conference play. In particular, losses early in the season to non-NCAA tournament teams Iowa and Oklahoma State hurt the Cardinal’s resume. Ultimately, the Card’s hopes of hosting a NCAA regional were dashed by a string of three straight non-conference losses to Saint Mary’s, Pacific, and UC-Davis, all ranked 70 or lower in the NCAA Women’s Softball RPI.
As a result, the Cardinal will begin the NCAA tournament in Lincoln, Nebraska, competing in a double-elimination regional against No. 14-seeded University of Nebraska (40-13, 16-6 Big Ten), No. 24-ranked University of Tulsa (42-14-1, 19-5 C-USA), and the University of Northern Iowa (26-24, 13-8 MVC). At first glance, runs may be at a premium in this regional, as all four teams feature accomplished pitchers in their rotations. Of Stanford’s opponents, Nebraska has the best 1-2 combination in junior Tatum Edwards and freshman Emily Lockman.
Edwards and Lockman, both Southern California products and members of the same travel ball club in high school, anchor a Cornhuskers pitching staff that led the Big Ten in ERA (1.79) and opponent batting average (.205). Edwards was this season’s Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, posting 25 complete games and nine shutouts. Edwards’ aggressive style has caused her to periodically struggle with command issues—the Murrieta, Calif. native hit 33 batters, while walking 114 during the regular season.
Lockman, the capable freshman who was California’s 2012 Gatorade Player of the Year and a first team All-American as a senior in high school, has solidified her position as the No. 2 starter behind Edwards with an impressive first campaign in Lincoln.
In 24 starts, the Corona, Calif. native has posted a 14-5 record while allowing only 44 total runs in 142 innings. Her best win of the season came against the No. 1 overall seed and consensus national championship favorite Oklahoma Sooners on Mar. 2—in the 1-0 win, Lockman stymied the potent Sooner lineup, scattering seven hits in the complete game victory.
Tulsa also boasts a star pitcher in junior Aimee Creger. Creger, a 2011 NFCA Third Team All-American selection as a true freshman, has an outstanding 1.04 ERA in 29 starts this season. Like Lockman, Creger has also fared well against elite competition on the national softball landscape. In a 1-0, eight-inning loss to No. 4 national seed Texas on Feb. 23, the Yukon, Okla. product did not allow an earned run while yielding only five hits in the complete game, 128-pitch effort.
At the plate, Stanford is clearly the most talented offensive team, posting the highest team batting average (.302) and scoring the most runs (316) against the strongest conference schedule of the four teams at the Lincoln Regional.
Nebraska was an above average hitting team in the Big Ten this season, batting .291 while driving in nearly five runs per game.
In turn, Tulsa had the best batting average in Conference USA (.298) while also driving in the most runs in the nine-team league. All four teams feature balanced lineups, rather than relying upon any one individual player.
Stanford begins play in the Lincoln Regional against Tulsa this afternoon at 2:00 p.m. PST at Bowlin Stadium. The Cardinal will continue playing this weekend until accruing two losses or winning the regional. For box scores, game times and live streaming, visit www.gostanford.com. Every game will also be broadcast live on KZSU-2 at KZSUlive.stanford.edu.
Contact David Cohn at dmcohn ‘at’ stanford.edu.