STANFORD — May 3 is significant within the Stanford softball program.
On that date in 1995, the Cardinal lost to Santa Clara.
It hasn’t happened since, with the Broncos finding themselves on the wrong end of the scoreboard 47 times in a row, including Tuesday night’s 6-5 comeback by Stanford.
“We’ll look to keep that going for years to come,” junior catcher Arden Pettit said.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, May 3, 2015, is not quite as fond of a reminder — it’s the last time Stanford (17-22) won a Pac-12 contest.
That streak is at 39 games and counting in an unrelenting conference.
There are no softball teams at USC, Washington State and Colorado, but the rest of the Pac-12 is a juggernaut, with six teams currently ranked in the USA Today/NFCA Coaches poll, while Cal and Oregon State also receive votes.
“There’s no off-weekends in the Pac-12,” said Stanford coach Rachel Hanson, who in her three seasons on The Farm is 2-58 against conference foes, including 0-12 this season.
“When I look at how we’re competing against some of these teams, we’re going toe-to-toe and blow-for-blow and competing really hard,” Hanson added. “What we collectively have to keep doing is just putting together quality outings. … When you walk into a Pac-12 weekend, there are no guarantees. But when you give yourself opportunities by playing hard, things happen.”
Since the controversial resignation of head coach John Rittman following the 2014 campaign, the Cardinal has struggled to regain its footing. It has missed the postseason for three straight seasons, and likely a fourth, after making 16 consecutive appearances in the NCAA Regionals.
But there is a hope that the program is approaching a light at the end of the tunnel.
“I think we go into every game expecting to win,” said Carolyn Lee, a sophomore right-hander who headlines the pitching staff, which also consists of three freshmen. “You have to go in there with that fight, and it’s exciting that you have the opportunity to compete with the best.”
“These are young women who understand excellence, who understand you have to come out and get better every day,” Hanson said. “Our growth from last year to this year has been phenomenal. It’s tough, because it doesn’t always show up in the win-loss column, but I’m very proud of how hard they’ve worked and how much we’ve grown this year.”
Coming off finals week and spring break, Stanford nearly ended its Pac-12 drought in Berkeley against rival Cal in a 1-0 loss.
An 8-6 loss to No. 10 Utah opened another series sweep.
Then, a trip to No. 3 Arizona sort of derailed the Cardinal, beginning with a 20-1 loss in a game that ended after the top of fifth inning, when the eight-run “mercy” rule was invoked.
Saturday’s 7-4 loss in extra innings to No. 23 Arizona State was the first time in nearly two weeks that the Cardinal played past the bottom of the fifth, with a three-run homer by redshirt sophomore Whitney Burks in the bottom of the seventh extending the game.
That’s why the victory against Santa Clara, which snapped a 12-game skid, couldn’t have come at a better time.
“It definitely does feel good to get back on the right page,” Pettit said. “I think this was a really big game for our pitchers. People stepped up, we swung the bats a lot better. It’s tough when you get into Pac-12 play, all the teams are really good, so it’s nice to come out here on our home field and just play well — get a victory.”
The Cardinal trailed early against the Broncos (11-29), with three errors in a two-inning span ending a stretch of 39 frames in which the defense had committed only two miscues.
“We like to keep it interesting, make it worth the ticket price,” said Lee, with a smile. “No, but errors are going to happen and I think that we responded well.”
Lee entered the game in relief after the third inning facing a 4-1 deficit and promptly struck out the side.
That seemed to ignite the offense, with a bases-loaded, two-run double by senior Kylie Sorenson quickly followed by a two-out, two-run single by freshman Kristina Inouye to cap the four-run rally.
“They’re fighters,” Hanson said. “They’re going to battle and attack, no matter what. And I love that about them.”
A two-out RBI double by Santa Clara senior Amanda Delfino, a graduate of St. Francis High in Mountain View, briefly tied the game in the top of the sixth.
Stanford senior Bessie Noll crushed her own two-out RBI double in the bottom of the frame for the game-winning run.
“The seniors stepped up big tonight,” Hanson said.
The Cardinal next travels to Oregon State for a three-game set in Corvallis, hoping that May 3, 2015, stops being a reminder of its most recent Pac-12 triumph.
“I think we’re very close,” Lee said. “We’ve had quite a few games where we were in it, we were ahead at some points, we’re fighting into the last inning, going into extra innings this past weekend. And I think that we’re very close to turning that switch and being able to be back where we were in the Pac-12.”
“We have a lot of fight,” Pettit said. “We have a lot of young, quality players on this team that bring a lot of energy. We have a lot of experienced veterans who are great leaders. We’ve shown we can play with the best in the Pac-12, so it’s just piecing together all three phases of the game — hitting, pitching and defense — and we’re definitely right there.”