2023 Mark Campbell Collegiate Invitational

Loaded Stanford Team Hopes Experience Leads To Deep Run

Loaded Stanford Team Hopes Experience Leads To Deep Run

There may not be a team at any level of college softball with more returning experience than the Stanford Cardinal.

Feb 10, 2023 by Ron Balaskovitz
Loaded Stanford Team Hopes Experience Leads To Deep Run

There may not be a team at any level of college softball with more returning experience than the Stanford Cardinal.

Despite a young team last season, the Cardinal went 39-22. That includes winning a Regional at Alabama, before falling to Pac 12 rival Oregon State in the Super Regional round.

This year, the Cardinal have their sights set on an even deeper run, and with good reason.

A typical team would be thrilled to have 3-4 of their best hitters from the previous season back, along with maybe a starting pitcher and a bullpen arm that gained some experience the year before in a few dozen innings.

Stanford, which kicks off its season Thursday at the Mark Campbell Invitational, being streamed on FloSports, returns eight of its nine best hitters from last season, virtually all its production in terms of average, home runs, RBIs and stolen bases. 

As if that haul of returning talent at the plate and in the field wasn’t enough, both starting pitchers they used last season are back. Again, this was a team that won 39 games and reached the Super Regional round, and nearly the entire roster is back.

That experience put the rest of the Pac 12 on notice in the conference’s preseason poll and awards, with the Cardinal picked to finish second behind traditional power UCLA, while also earning a No. 17 ranking in the national poll.

All that sets up for a team that will look to make its first College World Series appearance since 2004, now playing under sixth-year coach Jessica Allister.

While having many of your top hitters back from last season is a great thing on paper, the big challenge for Stanford is seeing those players take the next step. 

Last season, the Cardinal ranked last in the Pac 12 in runs, batting average and home runs, hitting 15 fewer home runs than the next-lowest team in the league.

Center fielder Taylor Gindlesperger is the big name to watch in the lineup. Among qualified batters on the team, she led the way with a .341 average, collecting 63 hits and coming around to score 33 times, while swiping a team-best 14 bases. 

If she continues to hit and get on base like she did last season, that’s a strong piece at the top of the lineup.

Emily Young returns at shortstop after a good season at the plate, as well. She hit .320 with a team-best 12 doubles and drove in 39 runs.

Sydnee Huff is Young’s partner up the middle at second base and is the most patient hitter on the team. She hit .312 and posted a team-best 16 walks, along with 10 doubles.

The final big piece is Kaitlyn Lim, the team’s top returning power hitter, who led the Cardinal with seven home runs and 40 RBIs, while being second on the squad with six steals.

While four strong hitters back in the lineup is a great place to start, the question for Stanford is who hits after those four. 

There are four other returners to the lineup, but only one of those players hit over .270 last season, with three of them hitting .242 and below. 

Perhaps the year of growth and experience will see those players improve and give the team the depth it needs to make a run at the Pac 12 title and return to the World Series for the first time in nearly two decades.

Regardless of how the offensive depth turns out, the trio of Young, Huff and Gindlesperger gives the team one of the best defenses in the nation up the middle, aiding a strong pitching pair in Regan Krause and Alana Vawter. That defense made just 44 errors last season in the team’s 61 games.

Vawter made the bulk of the starts last season, going 25-14 over her 39 appearances, while holding opponents to a .211 batting average on the way to a 1.97 ERA. 

Krause, meanwhile, might have been even better in half the innings, going 11-4 with a 1.66 ERA. Opponents hit just .194 off her.

If the offense doesn’t find the depth in the back half of the lineup, the Cardinal, like last season, are plenty prepared to win a bunch of low-scoring games, thanks to that duo in the circle.

The Cardinal also will get a big test early at the Mark Campbell Invitational. It will allow them to see how they stack up on the national scale. 

After Thursday’s opening game against Loyola Marymount, which received votes nationally in the preseason polls, Stanford will face No. 1-ranked Oklahoma on Friday at 10:30 p.m. Eastern.

On Saturday evening at 6:30 p.m. EST, they’ll face top-20 ranked Duke, before closing against a Liberty team on Sunday that also received votes to start the season.

But that’s exactly what coaches want – a tough test early to see how they’ve grown from one year to the next.

With as much returning star power as any team in the country, some of those games on FloSports could be previews of future matchups at the College World Series later this year.