Sarah Hassman's first at bat ended in frustration. She made up for it the rest of the way, igniting Stanford's offense in helping the Cardinal beat host Alabama, 5-2, Thursday in the first game of a best two-of-three NCAA Super Regional softball series that will determine which team advances to the Women's College World Series.
The 15th-seeded Cardinal (42-15) gets a chance to sweep its way into the WCWS on Saturday against the second-seeded Crimson Tide (49-9) at 1:30 p.m. (ESPNU).
"It's definitely huge," Hassman said of winning the first game. "Upperclassmen have learned from our freshman year when we won our first game against Arizona and then dropped our next two, so we know it's not over. We can sleep a little easier but I'm sure there are a few of us that will be up."
The going will be tough. Alabama, which suffered its first home loss of the year, owns an explosive offense and can turn the tide in a hurry.
"We know that we have to have a short memory," Stanford coach John Rittman said. "Alabama is going to come back ready to go, and we'v got to come out with our 'A' game."
Hassman fouled off a couple of tough pitches before she was caught looking at strike three to open the game. In the second, she took one strike, fouled another off and then delivered a two-run single that gave Stanford a 3-0 lead. Winning pitcher Teagan Gerhart drove in a run earlier in the inning.
Melisa Koutz opened the second, drawing a walk during an 8-pitch at bat. Maya Burns singled on the first pitch she saw and Jenna Becerra walked to load the bases. Gerhart put a 0-2 pitch into play, grounding into a fielders' choice and driving in Koutz ahead of Hassman's single.
A pair of errors led to a pair of Stanford insurance runs in the third. Danielle Miller reached base an error and Koutz followed with a bunt single. Burns sacrificed both runners up. Becerra's fly ball to the outfield was dropped, allowing two runners to cross the plate.
Gerhart (26-11) allowed five hits in going the distance, her 29th complete game. She did not walk a batter and struck out eight.
"Teagan has done a great job of getting ahead of hitters and hitting her spots," Rittman said. "We say this a lot but when you play in the conference we play in and face one through nine that can hit, it makes you mentally tough, and physically you have to make adjustments throughout that conference year."
Alabama's Whitney Larsen hit her 13th home run, a solo shot in the fourth that ended Gerhart's bid for a no-hitter.
"Gerhart pitched a great game," Larsen said. "She is a great pitcher. I thought she hit her spots really well. She kept us off balance, but at the same time I think we started to make adjustments at the end."
Ashley Hansen added two hits for Stanford, which will be looking to clinch its first WCWS berth in seven years Friday. The Crimson Tide, 23-0 at home entering the contest, needs to win twice to earn the trip to Oklahoma City.
"She's a very mentally strong pitcher," Hansen said of Gerhart. "She has a short memory. I went and talked to her after she gave up the home run and just said, 'Go back and get this one and get us back in there.' That's just what she does. She stays with her game and doesn't worry. She focuses on her strengths."
Alabama has lost seven of its nine games within the past 19 games.