It may not determine the fate of The Axe, but plenty is still on the line this weekend for Stanford against Cal. The No. 16 Cardinal softball squad (32-17, 9-9 Pac-12) heads to Berkeley for a three-game series against the No. 12 Golden Bears (35-12, 9-9 Pac-12) that will likely decide the Cardinal’s destination for the first round of the postseason. A successful trip for Stanford may earn them a postseason regional in Palo Alto, a valuable commodity that provides both fan support and much-needed rest from travel. Standing in the way, however, is the Cardinal’s Bay Area rival.
Last year, Stanford hosted Cal for a three-game series at home to open Pac-12 play. Despite coming in hot with a 25-3 record and a No. 9 national ranking, the Cardinal was defeated in three consecutive games by scores of 9-0, 4-3, and 8-0. Stanford had not been shut out in a single game prior to that series, so the fact that the offense mustered just three runs in the series was shocking.
This year, Stanford has the opportunity to seek payback and beat the Bears on their home turf. A series win would vault Stanford ahead of Cal in Pac-12 play and put them in prime position heading into the postseason.
Stanford heads into the biggest series of its season amid mixed recent results. After a dominant sweep of the Utah Utes last weekend, the Cardinal fell to UC-Davis 5-4 on Wednesday. The Aggies rallied to score three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning and steal the victory from Stanford’s grasp. The Cardinal has now lost three straight non-conference matchups against lower-ranked opponents.
One of the few positives to take away from the game for the Cardinal was again the performance of Kayla Bonstrom, who provided three hits and two RBI in four at-bats. The freshman is currently ninth in the Pac-12 with a .378 batting average, and she has been especially hot as of late with 11 hits in her last 19 at-bats.
Fellow freshman Jess Plaza has also been strong for the Cardinal in her return from injury. The catcher hit .625 with a .750 slugging percentage last weekend against the Utes.
Shortshop Jenna Rich recently earned a spot in the top 10 on Stanford’s career hits list. The senior, who has posted 233 career hits, will be looking to tack on more in what is likely her last chance to face Stanford’s biggest rival.
Stanford will look to take advantage of Cal’s pair of freshman pitchers, Nisa Ontiveros and Nikki Owens, who have taken the place of injured senior ace Jolene Henderson. Cal’s dynamic power duo of Cheyenne Cordes and Lindsey Ziegenhirt, who have combined for 23 home runs and 79 RBI over the course of the season, will try to provide run support for their young pitchers.
The Cardinal will bring its own duo of senior Teagan Gerhart and freshman Kelsey Stevens to the circle in Berkeley. Since the start of April, Gerhart has allowed 42 runs in 64 innings of work, causing her ERA to rise by more than a full point. Although she suffered a rough outing against UC-Davis, Gerhart’s form against Utah—she surrendered only one run in two victories—served as a reminder as to why she is Stanford’s ace and one of the best pitchers in the Pac-12. A good outing for Gerhart against Cal could go a long way in bringing her back to top form just in time for the postseason.
Cal comes into the series reeling from four straight losses, albeit three of them were at the hands of mighty No. 5 Arizona State. Before the current losing streak, Cal had yet to lose more than two games in a row, so this series has heavy implications for both squads.
Friday’s first pitch is scheduled for 3:00 p.m. Saturday’s game will begin at 1 p.m. before the series concludes at noon on Sunday.
Contact Michael Peterson at mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu.