By Andrew Tan
Finding a groove in Baton Rouge, Stanford softball (11-2, 0-0 Pac-12) thrashed the competition at the LSU Invitational on its way to a 5-0 tournament record including an opening night victory over No. 7 LSU. From Thursday to Sunday, the Cardinal bolstered its record with wins over Michigan, Memphis and two over CSUN, in addition to LSU.
Like the proverbial saints of New Orleans lore, Stanford came marching into Louisiana with a 7-5 win over LSU, the first ranked opponent they faced all season. The Tigers took a 5-0 lead into the sixth inning after some pitching struggles. What followed was a complete meltdown on the scale of such choke-jobs as the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI or the Empire when the Death Star exploded.
Stanford opened the top of the sixth with three freebies with juniors Teaghan Cowles and Kristina Inouye drawing walks that sandwiched a hit-by-pitch on freshman Emily Klingaman. Senior Whitney Burks now had a chance to bring the game within a run with a single swing of the bat, but instead rolled a hard grounder to short to score one. Freshman Emily Schultz drew a walk to reload the bases before fellow rookie Emily Young struck out, setting up the ultimate pressure situation for both pitcher and hitter: bases loaded, two outs, down by four.
To say that the crooked number the Cardinal subsequently put up was untraditional would be an understatement. While Stanford deserves credit for its plate discipline and hustle — Branch Rickey famously said that “Luck is the residue of hard work and design” — the primary factor in the wild comeback was that LSU simply forgot how to play softball.
A dropped third strike allowed a run to score, trimming the lead to 5-2. Further disaster ensued on the next play when freshman Taylor Gindlesperger grounded a ball to third, but third baseman Amanda Sanchez skied the throw to first, bringing home two more Cardinal runners. Junior Alyssa Horeczko then capitalized on the defensive miscues, lining a two-RBI single up the middle and through the hearts of the little league team posing as LSU. In her second at-bat of the inning, Cowles took a handful of Morton salt and threw it in the Tigers’ faces with a double to add an insurance run to Stanford’s new lead.
Sophomore Maddy Dwyer would close out the night with two scoreless innings to pick up the win and fuel a Cardinal rampage through the rest of the invitational.
Once the Cardinal had caged the Tigers in their own errors, they moved onto Friday where they blanked CSUN 2-0 and made quick work of Michigan 7-1. Dwyer would figure largely into the morning game, pitching 5.1 shutout innings and nabbing her fourth win to move to 4-1 on the year. The narrow win over CSUN was the first shutout this season for Stanford as Matador batters would have had a better chance hitting individual Orbeez™ than they did against the pitches twirled by Dwyer and Kiana Pancino in the final 1.2 innings. Junior Montana Dixon accounted for both Cardinal runs, one on a two-out RBI single and another on a squeeze bunt.
The afternoon game against Michigan appeared in doubt for four innings, knotted up at one. Similar to the LSU contest, the Stanford bats were quiet for most of the game until the sixth inning. Inouye sent home the go-ahead run with a single before freshman Kate Cressey broke the dam with a two-out two-run single. After a wild pitch allowed Dixon to score, Gindlesperger recorded her first career hit, an RBI single to bring the score to 6-1. The Wolverines failed to answer in the top of the seventh lacking the adamantium that might have powered them past the closing effort of Pancino. Pancino recorded her third win while senior righty Carolyn Lee took another tough-luck no-decision, now 1-1 with a 0.88 ERA.
On Saturday, Stanford defeated their second set of Tigers in three days with a 5-1 win over Memphis. Dwyer was again stellar, mesmerizing batters for 6.1 innings with a single unearned run. The Cardinal’s patience at the plate again proved a staple of their winning play style as they drew six free passes to ensure that the bases, like portable toilets when you need them most, were always occupied. By this point in the tourney Stanford had adopted a San Antonio Spurs-esque philosophy of doing all the little things to win without necessarily having the flashy play.
Stanford concluded its obliteration of the field on Sunday with a second win against CSUN, the tightest game of the set, this time by the score of 3-2. Lee finally earned a second win in six innings of two-run ball. Schultz sent a ball into the atmosphere for her first career home run for Stanford’s first two runs, before Cowles broke a 2-2 tie with a clutch two-out RBI double in the sixth. Throughout the tournament, Stanford proved that it could win in many different ways, and Sunday’s game was yet-another example of the Cardinal’s strong will to win.
The Cardinal return to action starting on Friday as they host the Stanford Invitational, welcoming Northwestern, Montana, North Dakota State and Cal Poly to Palo Alto from Friday to Sunday.
Contact Andrew Tan at tandrew ‘at’ stanford.edu.