By David Cohn
After a difficult week filled with seemingly never-ending rain delays and a pair of shocking losses to weaker non-conference opponents, No. 15 Cardinal softball (29-16, 6-9 Pac-12) will look to rebound in this weekend’s three-game series against Utah (23-24-1, 6-12 Pac-12).
Since pulling off its most impressive win of the season against then-No. 2 Arizona State on April 7, the Card is only 2-4 in its last six contests. The ongoing slide includes a 5-2 home defeat to the Saint Mary’s Gaels (20-27, 11-9 PCSC), ranked No. 146 in the NCAA Women’s Softball RPI, as well as a 9-6 road loss to Pacific (28-22, 12-6 Big West), marking the first time the Cardinal has lost to the Tigers since 2005.
Stanford has particularly struggled in the circle in its recent losses, yielding a total of 27 runs in its last four defeats. In Wednesday’s loss to Pacific, senior Teagan Gerhart and freshman Kelsey Stevens combined to give up nine runs on 12 hits, including a two-run homerun to Tigers third baseman Taylor Petty, as well as three doubles in the fifth and sixth innings. The late extra-base hits allowed Pacific to finally pull away from the Cardinal in the back-and-forth slugfest.
However, Gerhart, Stevens and sophomore Nyree White will have an opportunity this weekend to assert themselves against a steadily improving Utes lineup. While Utah has the third-worst batting average in the Pac-12 (.288), the Utes have scored the third-most runs in conference games, averaging over four runs per game against Pac-12 competition.
At the plate, Utah’s offense is led by senior Jackie Sweet and sophomore Kate Dickman. Sweet, a Corona, Calif., native who transferred to Utah from UC-Santa Barbara after her freshman season, currently leads her team in batting average with a .382 mark, 37 points clear of Dickman. A versatile batter who can also readily hit for power, Sweet also holds the Utes’ highest slugging percentage at .626. Gerhart, Stevens and White will have to be extra careful in hitting their locations when facing off against Sweet.
While Sweet is certainly Utah’s best hitter, Dickman has also had a strong year for the Utes. A Pac-12 Freshman Team Honorable Mention selection from last season, the Mission Viejo, Calif., product has paced her team’s run production with a total of 32 RBI on the season. In addition, Dickman is also second on the team in slugging percentage and on-base percentage behind Sweet.
Dickman has proven that she has the ability to drive in runs in bunches, as the sophomore already has eight multi-RBI games on the season. In particular, Dickman had a standout performance back on April 13 against Oregon State; the leftfielder went 3-for-4 that day with seven RBI and two home runs against the Beavers. In the process, Dickman tied a Utah all-time record for the most RBI in a single game.
While hitting has been Utah’s strength during its Pac-12 schedule, the Utes have struggled mightily in the circle. On the season, Utah has posted the second worst ERA in the Pac-12 at 3.81. Since the start of the conference play, Utah’s pitching difficulties have only been exacerbated; the Utes’ pitching staff has given up nearly five runs per game (4.90) while allowing its Pac-12 opponents to hit a conference-worst .342 at the plate.
Stanford and Utah will begin their three-game series at Smith Family Stadium on Friday evening at 5:00 p.m., with Saturday’s and Sunday’s games starting at 1:00 p.m. Friday’s and Sunday’s contests will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks.
Contact David Cohn at dmcohn ‘at’ stanford.edu.