The regular season is winding down and the race for the postseason is heating up. Getting relief efforts like Dean McArdle, David Schmidt and A.J. Vanegas provided in Tuesday night's 6-3 nonconference win over visiting USF proved vital in showing that the Cardinal (33-14) are good enough to host a regional.
The three pitchers held the Dons, who took a 3-1 lead in the top of the fourth, scoreless over the final five innings. McArdle did not allow a hit and struck out four in his two innings, Schmidt (3-1) allowed two hits in his two innings and Vanegas, who recorded his fourth save, allowed two outs and walked a batter but also struck out the side in the ninth to nail it down.
"At this point in the season every game is big," Schmidt said. "We needed this one."
Stanford travels to Utah for a Pac-12 series that begins Friday before returning home to host California in the regular season finale.
The Cardinal enters the weekend in a tie with Arizona State for fourth place, two games out of second.
Conference leader Oregon plays out of conference this weekend and ends with s three-game set with rival Oregon State. Arizona has a chance to move into a first-place tie, while UCLA, Stanford, the Sun Devils and Beavers all still have title aspirations.
The Utes and Cal the Pac-12's two bottom feeders, but that holds nothing special for the Cardinal.
"If we've learned anything, it's that in this conference any team can beat any other on any given day," Schmidt said. "We have to go down there and play like it's the seventh game of the World Series. We have to go out and try to win every game we play from here on out."
With the bullpen roles more clearly defined as the season enters its stretch run, there's not much bickering about who gets to pitch where.
"We all have our jobs to do. If we want to go far we have to take care of things," he said. "We're all very capable. We're up to the task."
No. 16 Stanford (38-17) will make its 15th consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament when it travels to the Lafayette Regional, where a double-elimination tournament among four teams will decide which team gets to advance to a Super Regional.
The Cardinal opens play against Baylor (33-20) on Friday. Host Louisiana-Lafayette will face Mississippi Valley State in the second game.
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," Stanford coach John Rittman said. "We are really looking forward to going to Louisiana. They have a beautiful stadium and great fan support there. Louisiana-Lafayette has been a top program in the country over the past several years."
Stanford takes a 16-13 record against the NCAA field into the tournament, which includes a win over No. 6 seed Oklahoma.
The selection for the Lady Bears marks the seventh time in the last nine years the team has been picked for the NCAA tournament. They are 6-11against the field, which includes wins over Oregon, North Carolina and North Dakota State.
"We face a Baylor team that is coming off an appearance in the Women's College World Series a year ago," Rittman said. "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, outscoring opponents, 129-28, including 10 by shutout.
The Cardinal, one of eight Pac-12 schools in the NCAA field, finished sixth in the conference with an 11-13 mark. Stanford swept Oregon State and Washington, and also won games against Oregon, at Arizona and at UCLA.
Making its 34th all-time NCAA Tournament appearance, Stanford (19-8) is into the round of 16 for the fourth consecutive season and 28th overall. The No. 11 Cardinal owns a 102-17 all-time record in the NCAA Tournament.
One of the most successful and tradition-rich programs in the history of men's college tennis, Stanford has captured 18 national team championships (15 NCAA, 3 AIAW). The Cardinal's next victory will mean four consecutive 20-win seasons.
It's been 12 years since Stanford last took home the national championship trophy, but the Cardinal's NCAA quarterfinal finish last year was its best postseason effort since 2006.
Six matches ago, Stanford coach John Whitlinger decided to shuffle his doubles lineup in order to create added balance and maximize his talent on all three courts. The Cardinal has won four of six doubles points since that change.
The No. 1 spot has been anchored by Denis Lin and Ryan Thacher (3-3), the No. 2 position has been held down by Bradley Klahn and John Morrissey (5-0) and the No. 3 spot has featured a combination of Jamin Ball, Matt Kandath and Robert Stineman.
Klahn, who seems to be fully recovered from injuries, has won 10 of his past 12 matches, with the only losses coming to the nation's top-ranked player in Steve Johnson of USC.