The No. 14 Cardinal (11-5) won't have to put its fate in anyone else's hands this year. It's as simple as winning the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament and earning an automatic spot in the NCAA Play-In game.
Stanford has won the past six MPSF tournament titles, but it hasn't been easy. California has been the team to beat in the past and this time it just may be Denver, not only the top seed of the conference tournament but also the host site.
The second-seeded Cardinal opened the tourney on Thursday afternoon with a 16-1 rout of seventh-seeded Fresno State, in only its second season of play. Dana Lindsay led Stanford with five goals.
It won't be as easy in the semifinals, nor the championship match, should both Stanford and Denver advance to Saturday's final. Stanford will likely play California in Friday's semifinals. The third-seeded Bears play No. 6 St. Mary's.
The Pioneers (12-4) beat Stanford, 17-12, on April 11 to claim the MPSF regular-season title. Their only common opponents were on their MPSF schedule.
Denver won at California in double overtime while Stanford posted a 12-7 win in Berkeley. The Pioneers beat UC Davis by 10, while Stanford survived by three.
The Cardinal is led by a group of seniors that includes Dana Lindsay, Amanda Schwab, Claire Hubbard and Julie Christy. Lauren Schmidt is an academic senior and a redshirt junior. On Thursday, Schmidt was named the MPSF Player of the Year for the second straight year.
Second-year coach Amy Bokker, who on Thursday was named MPSF Coach of the Year for the second straight season, inherited the upperclassmen, which have helped make a smooth transition with the new coach and still maintain a standard of excellence. The senior leadership hails from places like Bryn Mawr, Pa, Lutherville, Md. and Wayland, Mass., where lacrosse is more of a religion than a novelty and is followed closely at every level.
There are two players, freshmen Anastasia Fullerton and Jacqueline Candelaria, listed on the roster as being from California. Sophomore Caroline Smith is from Dallas. Everyone else comes from the Eastern Time Zone, with an emphasis on the east coast.
Hubbard extends her school record for both season and all-time with every assist she records. Entering Thursday's contest, she had 35 on the year and 82 for her career.
Most of those assists are for junior Sarah Flynn, who leads the team with 36 goals, or Lindsay, who has 32. Schmidt (27) and junior Leslie Foard (26) are right behind.
Hubbard, one of five players with at least 36 points, ranks sixth in the nation in total assists and eighth with her 2.19 per game average.
Stanford ranks 12th overall in scoring offense with 14.19 goals per game. The Cardinal ranks 39th in scoring defense at 10.63.
Junior goalie Annie Read ranks 13th in the nation with 148 total saves, and 15th with a .492 save percentage.
Defenders like junior Karen Nesbitt, sophomore Catherine Swanson and seniors Eleanor Foote and Charity Fluharty have helped to ease the pressure on Read.
An influx of nine freshmen has given Stanford a boost in terms of both depth and future success.
The Cardinal has toughened itself with seven games against nationally-ranked opponents this season, winning three of them and earning an RPI ranking of No. 14. Stanford has the appropriate credentials on display for the NCAA committee. Now all it has to do is win the MPSF tournament.
Stanford (10-5, 21-14) seemed to be in trouble two weeks ago after losing a Pac-10 series to Oregon and coming perilously close to slipping under the .500 mark overall.
An eight-game winning streak, since snapped in Monday night's 9-3 loss at Santa Clara, breathed new life into the No. 22 Cardinal as it heads to Washington (alma mater of Tim Lincecum) for an important conference series beginning Friday night at 6 p.m. in Seattle.
Saturday night's 6:30 p.m. game is set for Safeco Field as part of a day-night doubleheader with the Seattle Mariners.
Stanford's recent streak of success can be traced to its run production, though a resurgent left-hander Brett Mooneyham is also part of the equation.
Jonathan Kaskow and Tyler Gaffney are in the forefront of the improved run production. Kaskow, whose season average is a team-best .469, is hitting .559 over his past 11 games. Gaffney upped his average to .345 after he ignited his aluminum bat to the tune of .611 over the past four games. He has 11 hits in his last 18 at bats, scored six runs and driven in two. In his previous eight games Gaffney was 8-for-35 (.211) with six runs scored and one RBI.
Stephen Piscotty, Colin Walsh and Menlo School grad Kenny Diekroeger have also used the recent winning streak to improve their batting averages.
Piscotty has 13 hits in his last 34 at bats, while Walsh hit .348 (16-for-46) with 11 runs scored and 13 RBI. He leads the team with five home runs and 31 RBI.
Diekroeger, named the Pac-10 Player of the Week on Monday, owns a .378 average (17-for-45) over his past 11 games. He's added 10 RBI to his total of 27 over that span.
Mooneyham, who has walked 46 and struck out 54 in 46 1/3 innings, has shaved nearly three runs off his ERA and has reestablished himself as a prominent figure in the pitching rotation.
Alex Pracher (6-2, 3.34) and Jordan Pries (3-1, 3.39) continue to headline a healthy pitching staff.
Stanford enters the weekend in second place, a game behind Arizona State in a tightly-packed conference race.
Until junior pitcher Ashley Chinn shut down San Jose State, 4-1, Tuesday night, Stanford had trouble stopping anybody over a seven-game losing streak that began when freshman hurler Teagan Gerhart began experiencing soreness in her right arm.
Gerhart won her 22nd game in 26 decisions when she beat Oregon State, 1-0, on April 10. She had a 1.37 ERA afterward.
Stanford pitchers were 0-7 with an 8.79 ERA from April 11 until Chinn's gem, in which she did not allow an earned run. The Cardinal was outscored 55-20 during its worst losing streak in years. Gerhart allowed 10 runs over her next 8 1/3 innings before she was shut down.
Stanford (4-8, 31-12) remains in good shape for the postseason and can improve its position in the Pac-10 conference during a visit from Arizona State (6-6, 37-10), in town for a three-game set beginning Friday at 7 p.m.
While Chinn and the No. 14 Cardinal ended its overall losing streak, there's still the matter of stopping its conference loss streak, which stands at seven.
Chinn (7-4, 3.41) has prospered in the past. She was 13-3 with a 2.27 ERA last year, finishing fifth in the conference in ERA. She also has three no-hitters to her credit.
The Stanford offense averaged three runs a game over the past eight, although it was overshadowed by the pitching issue. Alissa Haber continues to pace the team with her .450 average, 13 doubles and a .695 slugging percentage while Ashley Hansen is batting .370 with 15 doubles. Freshman Jenna Rich has 11 home runs and driven in 39 while maintaining a .321 average.