By Erin Ashby
College softball goes live in less than five days.
283 Division 1 teams. Only eight of them will end up in Oklahoma City at the end of May. Only one will claim the national title.
The road to the Women’s College World Series begins now.
Stanford’s softball team has a long history of winning seasons. Last year was the first in over 18 years that the team did not receive a post-season bid. It would be an understatement to say that the team was disappointed. With a team batting average of .312 and on-base percentage of .406 over the course of the season, it’s hard to believe that the Cardinal finished with 5-19 record in conference play.
The hunger is stronger than ever for the six seniors who are facing their last shot at a College World Series berth. My name is Erin Ashby, and I am one of those six seniors eager to get under way. With Thursday’s game closer than ever, it’s hard to believe that the journey is almost over.
I’ve struck out against a two-time USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year, made an error in the bottom of the seventh with the game on the line and have been pulled mid game, but nothing compares to the disappointment I felt watching the 2014 NCAA Selection Show. As the teams advancing from each region were announced, the realization began to set in that our name may not be called. Our team’s countless hours of hard work lifting weights in the early morning, running field practices at midday and conditioning post-practice and on Friday nights — all for nothing.
That moment never settles. The feeling of failure never goes away. The following season begins and it’s time to look to the future. The loss drives us, fuels us and motivates us to do better than we did the time before. With all but three players returning, the desire for redemption is stronger than ever.
56 games — 56 opportunities to prove we want it.
We can’t wait to hit the road. With the addition of a new coaching staff and freshman class of seven, there is a lot to be excited about this season.
We have depth in places we were once short. The freshman class adds three new faces to the bullpen, two to the infield and two more to the outfield. Depth is crucial in a 56-game season.
Our offense is stacked and our defense is versatile. In a conference where a collective team batting average of .312 ranks seventh out of nine you need a loaded line up, and with more than a few players hitting stride, we have exactly that.
Haley Snyder, a freshman pitcher from Fair Oaks, California, may be our triple threat. When you can hit balls off a tee from home plate and clear the 220-feet sign on the fly seven times in a row, I’d say you have a strong stick. But not only is she a powerful hitter, she has great reaction time. Reaction time is everything in softball. Haley’s range of motion on the mound makes her the sixth infielder we need. She bounces on bunts and snag shots hit up the middle that would otherwise be hits. She does it all.
A pitcher, though, is only as good as the defense behind her. Kaitlin Schaberg and Lauren Bertoy are two notable infielders that will play a vital role in our success this year. Schaberg, a junior known by her teammates as ‘Schabey,’ is a vacuum in the field. The Missouri native has the softest hands in the infield, which allow her to read hops and field the most difficult of batted balls. Bertoy, a sophomore referred to as ‘Bert’ has switched frequently back and forth between the grass and the dirt, but her largest contributions will come at the plate.
But throwing another bullpen will not make your fastball five miles per hour faster, fielding one more ground ball won’t replicate the pressure of 3,000 fans, and taking one more swing off the tee won’t simulate the bottom of the seventh with the winning run on third.
Practice is over. Preparation is over.
Oklahoma City, here we come.
Contact Erin Ashby at eashby ‘at’ stanford.edu.