By Sam Fisher
Regional second-seed Stanford softball defeated the third and fourth seeds in the Lincoln Regional, but top-seeded host No. 14 Nebraska proved too much, defeating the Cardinal twice to end Stanford’s season in the regional round of the NCAA Tournament.
In the first game of the regional Friday, Stanford (39-21, 13-11 Pac-12) defeated third-seeded Tulsa (42-16-1, 19-5 Conference USA) 4-2.
Tulsa jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first, scoring two runs off senior starting pitcher Teagan Gerhart on a two-out two-RBI home run by Tulsa first baseman Julie Kernen. But that was the last run Gerhart would allow.
Freshman catcher Jessica Plaza homered to left field in the bottom of the second, scoring sophomore designated player Erin Ashby, to tie the game at two. Three innings later, another freshman, first baseman Kayla Bonstrom, hit a two-run homer to give Stanford its first lead, 4-2.
Gerhart allowed only one more baserunner, a two-out walk in the sixth, after Bonstrom gave Stanford the lead in closing out her complete-game victory.
On Saturday, Stanford took on host Nebraska with a berth in the Regional final on the line. Starting for the second game in a row, Gerhart gave up two runs on three hits in just one-plus innings of work as the Huskers took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning.
But freshman pitcher Kelsey Stevens stopped the bleeding after the second, keeping Nebraska scoreless over the next three innings. In the top of the fifth, sophomore leftfielder Leah White knocked in fifth-year senior centerfielder Sarah Hassman to cut the Nebraska lead in half.
However, Stevens couldn’t hold off the Huskers’ offense for much longer. In the bottom of the sixth, Nebraska scored five runs on four hits to put the game out of reach, winning by a final score of 7-2.
In the double-elimination format, that meant Stanford would have to beat third-seeded Northern Iowa later the same day and then top Nebraska twice on Sunday to advance to the Super Regionals.
Stanford took care of the first of those victories Saturday, topping Northern Iowa (27-26, 13-8 Missouri Valley Conference) 4-1.
Gerhart bounced back from her rough start earlier Saturday against Nebraska for another complete-game victory. The senior allowed only one run on four hits while picking up 10 strikeouts, finishing Saturday with a total of 15 innings pitched over the first two days of the regional.
Stanford, the visiting team for the game, struck first in the top of the third inning. Bonstrom and senior shortstop Jenna Rich each picked up an RBI to give Stanford a 2-0 lead. One inning later, the Cardinal cushioned its lead with two more runs, this time coming off White’s RBI groundout and Bonstrom’s RBI double.
Gerhart allowed one run on a double in the sixth, but the lead was never in doubt as Stanford secured a rematch against Nebraska in Sunday’s regional final.
Sunday’s contest, which began 35 minutes late due to weather, did not start out as planned for the Cardinal. An error on sophomore third baseman Hanna Winter led to an unearned Nebraska run in the top of the first inning.
But the game quickly turned in Stanford’s favor, as the Card scored three runs in the bottom of the first on an RBI single from Ashby and two bases-loaded walks. Hassman struck out looking to end the threat with the bases still loaded.
Weather caused the game to be delayed another hour and 10 minutes before the top of the second inning. After three scoreless innings, Nebraska took the lead with five runs — only one earned due to an error on Bonstrom — in the top of the fifth off Gerhart, who started on the mound all four games this past weekend. Another rain delay briefly halted the action in the middle of the five-run inning.
“[Gerhart] pitched her heart out today,” said head coach John Rittman, “and as a coach that is all you can ask for in difficult situations.”
After Stanford fought back within two runs in the bottom of the fifth, Nebraska put the game out of reach with four more runs in the sixth inning, eventually toppling the Cardinal 10-5 to end Stanford’s season.
Gerhart gave way to Stevens with two outs in the sixth, allowing 10 runs — four earned — on eight hits and five walks in her final collegiate game. Gerhart finishes her career with a 101-45 record in 177 appearances.
Sunday’s loss also meant the end of three other Stanford careers. Rich, Hassman and senior infielder Tegan Schmidt, along with Gerhart, will not return next season after exhausting their eligibility. Rich graduates as Stanford’s career RBI leader with 214.
Stanford does return seven of nine regular starters in the lineup, including standouts Bonstrom, who led the team with a .404 batting average on the season, and sophomore rightfielder Cassandra Roulund, who finished third on the team in home runs and RBI.
The 2014 season will begin in February.
Contact Sam Fisher at safisher ‘at’ stanford.edu.