May 16, 2012 10:20 PM by UL Sports Information
The 16th-ranked Stanford softball team (38-17) will travel to Lafayette, La., for the Louisiana Regional, where it will take on the Baylor Bears (33-20) in its opening round game on Friday, May 18. Host Louisiana will face Mississippi Valley State in game two, Friday.
The Cardinal is making its 15th consecutive NCAA postseason appearance under 16th year head coach John Rittman. Stanford has won seven regional titles and advanced to the Women's College World Series on two occasions (2001 and 2004).
"It is a very exciting time of year for us," stated Rittman. "We are really looking forward to going to Louisiana. They have a beautiful stadium and great fan support there. Louisiana has been a top program in the country over the past several years. We face a Baylor team that is coming off an appearance in the Women's College World Series a year ago. They are another program with a lot of tradition. We don't know too much about Mississippi Valley State, but I am looking forward to a great regional."
Earlier this season, Stanford put together a 19-game winning streak, spanning from Feb. 18 to March 11. During that time, the Cardinal outscored its opponents 129-28, posted 10 shutouts and five run-rule victories. Most notably, Stanford shut out then-No. 6 Oklahoma, 5-0, at the Cathedral City Classic in late February.
The Cardinal, which is one of eight Pac-12 schools in the NCAA field, finished sixth in the conference with an 11-13 mark. It swept Oregon State and Washington, and picked up a series win at Utah. Stanford also won games against Oregon, and at Arizona and UCLA this season.
The Cardinal is led by its seniors, first baseman Jenna Becerra, catcher Maya Burns and shortstop Ashley Hansen. Hansen, the reigning National Player of the Year, set school records for doubles and triples in a career this year, while striking out just four times at the plate. Becerra is having a breakout year offensively with 50 hits, more than double what she produced in each of her first three seasons. Burns has been a consistent defender and hitting a career-best .289 with 30 RBI.
"Our seniors have been fantastic this year. They obviously provide leadership, but they have also stepped up their game," said Rittman. "Ashley Hansen's numbers speak for themselves. Jenna Becerra and Maya Burns have both improved their stats from their first three years. As a coach, that's all you can ask for."
Stanford has been without its fourth senior, outfielder Sarah Hassman, for most of the year. A first team all-region player in 2011, she went down with an ACL injury during the second weekend of the season and has been missed in the Cardinal line-up.
"The team has dealt with that adversity," said Rittman. "Sarah has been missed in the outfield this season and at the plate, but our team has responded. We've had some other players step up in her place."
Power hitter Jenna Rich, a junior second baseman, has stepped up offensively. She leads the team with 10 home runs and 63 RBI, which is the second-best single season output in school history. Rookies Leah White and Hanna Winter have been starters all season. Winter, who has played second and third base, leads the Pac-12 with 81 hits, while White, an outfielder, paces the conference with 10 sacrifice bunts.
"We've had a lot of freshmen in and out of the line-up, but the two mainstays have been Hanna Winter and Leah White," Rittman said. "Hanna, being a lead-off hitter, has done a great job of getting on base and scoring runs. Leah is a very versatile player who can hit for average, hit for power or short game you. Her versatility has been a real bonus to our offense."
Junior pitcher Teagan Gerhart has been the Cardinal's ace in the circle. She is 30-11 with 190 strikeouts in 237.2 innings pitched. She ranks third all-time in school history in wins (78) and strikeouts (613).
"Teagan has taken a lot on her shoulders this year," explained Rittman. "In our conference you can get you confidence shaken a bit. I think she has done a good job of holding her composure and has really continued to work to get better this whole season. She's a competitor in the circle and she gives you everything she has, which is all you can ask for."
The regular season has prepared the Cardinal for this moment. Wins and losses, stats, everything is out the window now as all 64 teams have a shot at advancing to the Women's College World Series and winning that elusive national championship.