By David Cohn
How do you define success in life? Is it measured by getting A’s in every class, or by winning conference and national championships in athletics? Our society as a whole largely holds this viewpoint, as winners and champions are consistently elevated to a rarefied status; their achievements are often the only factor we use in order to judge their contributions to our culture.
On the other hand, could success be defined as making the best of the hand one has been dealt in life? More specifically, can we look as favorably upon someone or a particular team that, due to life’s circumstances, was unable to reach that championship or winning plateau?
While I believe that there are certainly no right or wrong answers to any of these questions, your idea of success will certainly dictate your opinion of the 2014 Stanford softball season. By the first metric, Stanford softball’s (30-25, 5-19 Pac-12) 2014 campaign was a shocking letdown, as the Cardinal failed to win a Pac-12 series in conference play for the first time since 1995. The Card also missed the postseason for the first time since 1997, ending a 16-year run of consistency in reaching the NCAA Tournament.
However, I believe that this characterization of Stanford’s season is unfair and incomplete, as the Cardinal’s campaign was also marked by extreme adversity, namely with the loss of three-quarters of the Card’s pitching rotation by the second week of the season. While there is nothing that I can say to ease the pain and disappointment that every member of the softball team must be feeling at this present moment, the players of the 2014 softball team embodied the qualities of resiliency and determination with their play and attitude this year.
After the loss of No. 1 high school recruit and future star pitcher Carley Hoover to an upper-body injury that would ultimately end her season after only eight games, as well as the loss of junior Nyree White to a medical leave, the Cardinal could have easily given up on the season. Instead, the Card roared out of the gate, jumping out to the second-best start to a season in school history at 13-0.
As a result, Stanford’s rotation, led by a freshman pitcher in Madi Schreyer who consistently displayed a maturity well beyond her years, would ultimately have to be held together for the rest of season by position players, as designated player Tylyn Wells and shortstop Kylie Sorenson became the second and third options in the circle for the Cardinal.
Nevertheless, while Schreyer, Wells and Sorenson worked to keep the rotation afloat, the Cardinal offense would often have to out-slug its competition in order to win. When the Card fell behind by five runs to Cal in the seventh inning of the Cardinal’s Pac-12 opener, Stanford mounted a furious comeback with six runs in the bottom of the seventh to stun the Bears 14-13. In turn, after nine consecutive Pac-12 losses, including tough 16-15, 7-5, and 18-12 setbacks to Arizona State and Arizona, respectively, the Cardinal kept fighting and swinging away, culminating in a 13-5 rout of then-No. 10 Washington.
This response to adversity became a recurring theme for the Card during Pac-12 conference play, as Stanford would maintain its postseason candidacy until the final week of the regular season with a series of clutch performances. After a sweep at the hands of No. 1 Oregon at home, the Cardinal traveled to Los Angeles and stunned No. 2 UCLA by a score of 12-9 for the Card’s first road win against a top-five squad since 2011.
Furthermore, Stanford pulled another huge comeback against Utah to avoid a sweep that likely would have ended the Card’s postseason hopes in mid-April; the Cardinal came back from a 10-3 deficit at the start of the sixth inning to shock the Utes 12-11 in the final game of the three game set.
In the end, despite all of the trials and tribulations of this 2014 season, the Card still entered the last weekend of the season as one of ESPNW’s “Last 5 Teams In the NCAA Tournament” with an RPI of 41 and an opportunity to lock up an at-large berth in the postseason with a sweep of Pac-12 bottom dweller Oregon State. However, the injuries in the circle proved to be too much to overcome, as the Cardinal suffered a home series loss to the Beavers before being left out of the NCAA Tournament field on Sunday.
As the play-by-play announcer for Stanford softball on KZSU-Stanford, I had the opportunity to travel with the team to Tucson, Arizona for its series against the Arizona Wildcats. Although the Cardinal were swept by the Wildcats that weekend, every single player on the team never let the previous day’s setbacks, or any frustrations over losing, affect their demeanors or play in the following game.
That weekend, I saw NFCA and Pac-12 Freshman of the Year candidate Kylie Sorenson, who I undoubtedly believe will go down as one of the great players in program history when her Cardinal career is over, pick herself up after giving up 12 runs in the circle to the potent Wildcat offense by hitting .444 in the series with 6 RBIs. I saw freshman Madi Schreyer bounce back from a tough start in an 18-12 Friday loss to the Cats by largely stifling the Zona offense in the series finale.
I saw freshman Bessie Noll recover from three strikeouts earlier in the three-game set, including once with the bases loaded, to hit as clutch of a home run as you will see, breaking a 2-2 tie in Sunday’s game in the top of the seventh inning with a blast to straightaway center field. Finally, I saw junior Erin Ashby persevere after getting hit very hard on the hand by an errant pitch to reach base safely in her final two at-bats of the day. Quite simply, the tenacity and heart of the softball team that weekend was inspiring, making me proud to have had the opportunity to cover the team this season.
At the end of the day, the legacy of the 2014 softball team in the minds of Stanford softball fans will depend on their definitions of success. Although I may not convince other Cardinal supporters of my point of view, I will never view this 2014 squad as “The Team That Missed the NCAA Tournament.”
Instead, I will always remember this team for handling an incredible amount of adversity to the absolute best of its ability. Furthermore, the players’ sheer refusal to quit or throw in the towel is indicative of this team’s immense character and heart, something that I will always value more than winning. Ultimately, I believe that the memories of wins and losses from this season will eventually fade, but the memories of the 2014 softball team’s heart and effort will always remain as examples to future Stanford student-athletes and softball players.
Contact David Cohn at email@example.com.