By David Cohn
The Stanford softball team (16-29, 1-14 Pac-12) gave No. 1 Oregon (38-5, 16-2 Pac-12) everything it could handle in a three-game set at Smith Family Stadium — about everything except come away with a victory in the series. While the series will go in the books as an Oregon sweep, the Cardinal responded with a much better performance after getting blown out by top-20 squads UCLA and Washington.
Stanford kept every game within three runs going into the final inning of each contest, with a chance to pull the upset. Stanford’s best opportunity to notch its best victory since a road win at then-No. 2 UCLA last season came in the opener on Saturday. The Card shocked the Ducks’ All-American pitching ace Cheridan Hawkins by jumping on her early, flustering Hawkins to the point where she charged out of her circle and nearly got in the face of home plate umpire Rick Cowan over not getting a called strike on one of her pitches.
Hawkins was shockingly not ejected from the game over the outburst, nor was Ducks head coach Mike White after he angrily came out to argue balls and strikes. That moment epitomized Oregon’s inability to play calm and collected softball for most of the weekend; the Ducks dropped several easy pop flies, erred on routine throws from infielders, and made mistakes with finding their pitching locations in the circle.
Although Oregon played nothing like the No. 1 team in the country this weekend, Stanford should still receive a lot of credit for making matters difficult for the Ducks. In Hawkins’ rough start on Saturday, the Cardinal tagged the 2014 Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year for 4 runs, highlighted by sophomore Kylie Sorenson’s double to right center field as part of a two-run fourth inning that gave the Card a 4-3 lead.
However, Oregon would fight back against Stanford’s makeshift rotation composed entirely of position players, with Coral Kosta’s RBI single in the top of the seventh serving as the difference in the 5-4 Ducks win.
On Sunday, Stanford continued its fine form at the plate, chasing Ducks starter Geri Ann Glasco from the circle without her recording a single out as part of a two-run first inning. Glasco gave up four walks in her brief outing. While Oregon reliever Karissa Hovinga temporarily stabilized Oregon’s pitching situation, the Card soon jumped on her too, eventually tagging her for 6 runs on 10 hits.
However, the Card’s upset bid on Sunday was doomed by defensive errors. Stanford gave up 8 unearned runs on two costly miscues. In particular, Oregon scored 6 runs in the third, all of them unearned, after Stanford committed an error at short. Nevertheless, the Ducks’ 8-2 lead would not last, as the Cardinal responded with two runs of their own in the bottom of the third. It cut the margin to four on a Kaitlin Schaberg 2-RBI single down the left-field line.
Later, with the Ducks holding a 10-4 lead, senior Erin Ashby helped blast Stanford back into the game with a towering grand slam to left field off of Hovinga on a 3-2 pitch. Ashby’s homer, as part of a 5-RBI game for the NFCA All-West Region Third-Team selection, cut the deficit to two heading into the top of the seventh inning. However, doubles by Kosta and Glasco helped solidify the win for the Ducks, with a final score of 12-8.
Finally, on Monday, Stanford once again put up runs on the Ducks starter, chasing Oregon junior Jasmin Smithson-Willett after only 2.1 innings, with Smithson-Willett giving up 3 earned runs. With the game tied at 3 in the third inning, Oregon turned to Hawkins to stifle the Cardinal’s offensive attack. Although Oregon continued to give Stanford opportunities — committing five errors in the game, including two from shortstop Nikki Udria and two from first baseman Gwen Svekis — the Cardinal’s offense could not capitalize on these chances, going 3-for-17 with runners on base, and 2-for-9 in RBI opportunities.
As such, Oregon was able to piece together enough offense in the final four innings, highlighted by Smithson-Willett’s solo shot to center field in the sixth, to notch a 6-3 win.
Head coach Rachel Hanson said about the offensive performance this weekend, “Toward the end, Cheridan certainly was coming out and pitching really well, but I think when the pitches are there, we are swinging hard and making really good contact.”
Stanford heads to Arizona this weekend to take on the Arizona Wildcats in Tucson.
Contact David Cohn at dmcohn ‘at’ stanford.edu.