By Sally Egan
In an extraordinarily busy senior weekend for softball, the Cardinal (31-20, 9-12 Pac-12) split their series with No. 5 Washington (41-11, 18-5 Pac-12), but outscored the Huskies 12 runs to six over the course of the weekend.
The weekend resulted in Stanford punching its ticket to the NCAA Tournament, where it will play its first game against South Dakota State (42-6, 21-1 Summit) on Friday. Meanwhile, the Huskies fell to the 16th overall seed in the tournament as a result of the beating they took at the hands of the Cardinal.
Additionally, on Sunday, redshirt freshman pitcher Alana Vawter was named to the Pac-12 First and All-Freshmen Teams, junior center fielder Taylor Gindlesperger was named to the Pac-12 Second Team, graduate right fielder Teaghan Cowles and junior shortstop Emily Young were named to the Pac-12 third team and graduate catcher Montana Dixon was named to the All-Defensive team.
The first game of the series was the Cardinal’s toughest: They could not get anything going offensively. After forcing the Huskies into a three-and-out in the top of the first, a pair of walks followed by outs that advanced the baserunners gave Washington a 1-0 lead in the top of the second. While Stanford hit two singles in the bottom of the second, both runners were stranded on base. Washington’s most successful inning of the weekend came in the top of the third, when it recorded four hits and two runs to put the Cardinal in a 3-0 hole. The Huskies would go on to win 4-0.
Friday’s games went much better for Stanford. In game one, junior left fielder Emily Schultz made the most of her one at-bat as she singled in the bottom of the second to bring home Young and give Stanford a 1-0 lead. Excellent baserunning by the Cardinal in the second inning resulted in a second run, as sophomore second baseman Sydnee Huff and sophomore pinch runner Kaitlyn Lim stole second and third base, respectively, forcing a bad throw by the second baseman that allowed Lim to steal home and score. Besides the second inning, it was a tight matchup, as Stanford only outhit Washington six to four in a battle of two of the conference’s best pitchers in Vawter and Washington senior Gabbie Plain.
Washington scored one in the top of the sixth to bring the score to 2-1, but graduate first baseman Eleni Spirakis stepped up at the right time, hitting a two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth to secure the 4-1 win for the Cardinal.
Game two of the Friday doubleheader featured strong hitting from the Cardinal and surprisingly sloppy play from the Huskies, which Stanford capitalized on. Senior pitcher Maddy Dwyer set the tone, giving up no hits to Washington in the top of the first. The Huskies then walked Gindlesperger in the bottom of the first, and Spirakis whacked a double deep into left field to bring her in and give Stanford the another 1-0 lead to start a game.
Dwyer started inning number two off with a strikeout, Dixon caught a pop-up foul ball against the backstop, and then Dwyer secured another strikeout as the strong senior performance continued. Schultz continued a strong weekend of her own with a beautiful triple down the right field line to show the Cardinal’s strong hitting would continue in the bottom of the second. With all the momentum in Stanford’s favor, Huff doubled into center, bringing home Schultz in the process and forcing a pitching change. Cowles brought in one more RBI before the inning ended with Stanford leading 3-0.
Stanford kept adding to its lead in the third, when Spirakis scored off of a rare error by graduate student Sis Bates, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and National Player of the Year finalist. Schultz hit a rocket into right field to advance Young to third with just one out, again causing a Washington pitching change. Yet another error by Bates allowed Young to come home on a Huff single, and put Lim, who was running for Schultz, on third base. A passed ball while Dixon was at bat brought Lim home and increased Stanford’s lead to 6-0. Dixon singled into center to bring in another run and make it a 7-0 game.
Stanford put up a scoreless frame in the fourth, escaping from a situation with runners on third and first. In the bottom of the inning, Young singled to bring in one more run with two outs, giving Stanford the needed eight-run lead to mercy rule the Huskies.
Needing just to hold the eight-run lead to win the game in five innings, Dwyer pitched a beautiful final inning, allowing just one hit. Young, Huff and Spirakis combined for a double play, a fitting way to end the game.
In the final regular season game of the season for Stanford, both teams put on a defensive masterpiece. Only two hits were secured by each team by the top of the sixth. In the top of the second, Stanford found itself in the tricky situation of having Washington runners on second and third with two outs and a full count, but managed to escape this with a nice pitch by Vawter forcing the batter into poor contact.
The Cardinal finally looked like they broke the scoring drought in the bottom of the fifth, when graduate student third baseman Kristina Inouye hit a single to shortstop and Schultz tried scoring from second, but Schultz was called out at home on a call that was questionable by the home crowd’s standards.
The Cardinal were fired up, though, and again sent the Huskies down in order in the top of the sixth. With two outs, Young reached first base on a nice bunt, but the Cardinal could not capitalize as the seventh inning began with high tensions all around.
The inning started out with a walk on yet another questionable call by the home plate umpire, and it ended up being a critical call, as a double following this walk would give the Huskies the 1-0 lead. Stanford would cut the Huskies offense off here, but couldn’t manage to score itself in the bottom of the seventh as Stanford went on to lose a heartbreaker, 1-0.
Stanford next plays in the NCAA Tournament in the Fayetteville regional, a double-elimination tournament in which it will first play South Dakota State at 12:30 p.m. PT on Friday. Following the opening action, the Cardinal will face either Manhattan (22-14, 17-13 MAAC) or the host, No. 6 Arkansas (40-9, 19-5 SEC).