FROM THE CHEAP SEATS:
Softball Team Faces Tough Super Regional
by MizzouCard and MiniMizzouCard
Though ranked No. 7 and No. 10 in the two national polls, Stanford Softball was seeded 12th in the NCAA Tournament. This weekend, they pay the price of this seeding when they travel to Tuscaloosa to face the SEC's top-rated team, the Alabama Crimson Tide, in the Super Regional.
Needless to say, the Cardinal face a formidable foe in its quest for a return to Oklahoma City. To put the task facing their team into perspective, Cardinal fans need only call to mind last season's Super Regional against Tennessee, when dominant lefty Monica Abbott led the visiting Lady Volunteers to two straight wins against a tough Cardinal squad. When those same Lady Volunteers visited Tuscaloosa in late March, the Crimson Tide beat them not twice, but three times.
The Crimson Tide offense is led by two .400 hitters. Freshman centerfielder Brittany Rogers hits at a .431 clip. Like many high-average lead-off hitters, Rogers has little power, with six doubles the only extra base hits among her stunning 81 total hits. In contrast, sophomore leftfielder Jordan Praytor has cranked out nine homers and a dozen doubles while still managing an average of .411. Hitting second, Praytor has knocked in 34 runs - many of them, one would guess, in the person of Rogers. Rogers (36 stolen bases) and Praytor (25) both have impressive speed.
After the first two hitters in the lineup, the Alabama batting averages drop to a solid, but not unworldly, level. Indeed, the next highest batting average belongs to senior third baseman Staci Ramsey, who hits a full hundred points below Praytor at .311, with a striking 57 RBI. Ramsey also leads the team in home runs, with 11. Clean-up hitter Dani Woods, a sophomore first baseman, has collected 49 RBI while hitting a team high17 doubles, as well as seven homers.
The key for Stanford's pitchers will probably be to quiet the first four hitters because the season statistics for the back half of the Alabama lineup are not nearly as extraordinary. Among the remaining hitters, statistics of note include junior outfielder Mandy Burford's .305 average and 15 stolen bases, freshman catcher Ashley Holcombe's nine doubles, and senior pitcher Stephanie VanBrakle's six home runs.
VanBrakle also leads the team in wins, with a 27-5 record, a sizzling 1.01 ERA, and an eye-popping 328 strikeouts (over a strike out and a half in each of her 214 innings in the circle). Sophomore Chrissy Owens eats up the rest of the innings, with a 20-4 record and an even better 0.66 ERA. [When comparing pitching numbers in softball, it is important to remember that many teams have an ace who faces much of the stiffer competition and a secondary pitcher who takes the ball more often in mid-week games. VanBrackle is the ace of this staff, holding opposing hitters to a minuscule .149 average. Opponents hit .182 against Owens, whose statistics demonstrate that she is also a very skilled pitcher.]
Both pitched in Alabama's sweep of its Regional (an 8-0 no hitter for Owens in five innings against Mississippi Valley State and 8-5 and 7-2 wins for VanBrakle over Georgia Tech), so Stanford may see both this weekend, particularly if the Super Regional goes the full three games. Fortunately, given the Cardinal's recent history of struggles against left-handed pitchers (including Abbott and Cat Osterman of Texas), VanBrakle and Owens are both right-handed pitchers.
Stanford Scouting Report
The Cardinal is not without weapons of its own, of course. Although no Cardinal hitter is above .400, leadoff hitter and senior centerfielder Catalina Morris hits .370 with 29 RBI, seven home runs, and an impressive five triples. Freshman Maddy Coon, now primarily playing third base, hits .353 with 40 RBI, nine home runs, and 13 doubles, leading the team in all three power categories. Senior Lauren Lappin, now predominately at the shortstop position she has handled so well through her impressive Stanford career after starting this season behind the plate, hits .331 with 26 RBI and 12 doubles. Speed comes from junior leftfielder Jackie Rinehart, who hits .345, and sophomore second baseman Tricia Aggaboa, at .330, but the stolen base is not a primary offensive weapon for Stanford. Sophomore Michelle Smith, now often at first base rather than third, has not dented as many scoreboards as she did last year, but she has put four softballs over the fence, as has freshman pitcher Missy Penna.
Penna has logged the most time in the circle, compiling a 22-9 record and a 2.37 ERA. Stanford, unlike most elite college softball teams, uses three pitchers instead of two. Senior Laura Severson has an ERA of 1.94 and an unblemished 10-0 record. Sophomore Becky McCullough sports an ERA of 2.12 and a record of 10-6. All three are right-handed.
Handicapping the Super Regional
In every statistical category, Alabama's numbers outshine those compiled by Stanford, often by a significant margin. Without a doubt, 52-9 Alabama is a clear favorite over 42-16 Stanford. Does Stanford have any chance to get two of three on the Tide's home field?
Sure. And it is more than simply an "anything can happen in sports" chance, despite Stanford's undisputed underdog status. Alabama's gaudy numbers have been compiled primarily against SEC competition, while Stanford's considerably less impressive record has been compiled in the toughest softball conference in the country, the Pac-10. Last week's Regionals demonstrated the difference between the two conferences.
Of the 16 seeded teams in the NCAA tourney before last weekend, only three failed to win their Regionals. Two, Florida (no. 16) and Georgia (no. 11), were among the five SEC teams that hosted Regionals. The only SEC team that was forced to travel last weekend, Auburn, also failed to advance. Thus, the SEC went three-for-six last weekend, despite hosting five Regionals.
Meanwhile, the Pac-10 sent seven teams to the Regionals, but three of them (Stanford, Arizona State, and California) had to travel to other sites despite being seeded. All seven Pac-10 teams won their Regionals. In fact, the Pac-10 compiled a record of 22-1 last weekend, with Stanford suffering the conference's only loss.
The results last weekend suggest that the middle of the Pac-10 (i.e., the lower ranking conference teams that qualified for the tournament) is stronger than the middle of the SEC. That should give Stanford fans some hope for the upcoming weekend, despite the differences in the two teams' "numbers." That having been said, this is not a match-up between teams from the middle of the two conferences. Alabama was the class of the SEC, along with Tennessee. Stanford did not threaten for the conference championship.
Super Regional Schedule
Game 1: Friday, May 26, 4:30 p.m. Pacific (6:30 p.m. Central)
Game 2: Saturday, May 27, 11:30 a.m. Pacific (1:30 p.m. Central)
Game 3: (if necessary) Saturday, May 27, approximately 2:00 p.m. Pacific (4:00 Central)
KZSU will broadcast the games that do not conflict with baseball games over the air and on the internet. When there is a conflict with the baseball games, you can find the softball games on the internet station, KZSU2, at http://kzsulive.stanford.edu. If all goes according to schedule in the "Battle of Schools that Have Shades of Red as Their Mascots" (and that one in Cambridge, Massachusetts does not count because they cannot survive to a Super Regional), the only game that will conflict with a baseball broadcast would be the third game, which will occur only if Stanford and Alabama split the first two games.
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