The Stanford softball team hopes the Pac-10's dominance of the postseason continues this weekend when Super Regional play opens Thursday in Tuscaloosa and Tempe.
The 15th-seeded Cardinal (41-15) plays host Alabama, the overall No. 2 seed, in a 5 p.m. contest that will be aired live on ESPN. Stanford is one of six Pac-10 teams participating in a Super Regional this weekend, with only defending national champion UCLA eliminated during regional play.
The Bruins are 12-time national champs, while the rest of the conference has won an additional 11 national titles (Arizona 8 times; Washington, California, and Arizona State once each) in the 29-year history of the NCAA tournament.
"There's no better way to prepare yourself for the postseason," Stanford senior pitcher Ashley Chinn said of the Pac-10. "We're lucky to compete in that kind of environment."
The Cardinal looks to reach its third Women's College World Series and is playing in its fifth Super Regional in the past seven years.
Stanford junior shortstop Ashley Hansen, recently named one of the three finalists for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award, was already one of the top players in the game even before this year.
Hansen hit .400 to help Stanford swept its own regional, although her average dipped to an even .500, second in the nation to Brown's Stephanie Thompson's .504 mark. Hansen has played 19 more games than the sophomore catcher and has 69 more at bats.
Hansen ranks eighth in the nation with a .562 on-base percentage, despite taking just 25 walks. She's struck out four times in 184 at bats, ranking her second as the toughest to strike out. Her 25 doubles lead the nation.
The series with the Crimson Tide looks interesting offensively, at least on paper. The Cardinal hit .305 as a team while Alabama hits .315, while ranking second (with two others) in the country with a team ERA of 1.36.
Chinn and sophomore Teagan Gerhart have helped Stanford maintain a 1.83 team ERA, tied for 21st, with Tulsa, in the nation.
"It's been a fantastic year," Stanford coach John Rittman said. "There's no other conference like it. To be one game under .500 in conference play and still be seeded speaks to the strength of the Pac-10."
The Crimson Tide averages 7.35 runs a game, fourth in the nation. Stanford scores at a rate of 5.18 runs a game, 54th in the country. Sophomore outfielder Kayla Braud leads Alabama with a .437 average.
Arizona State hosts Texas A&M on Thursday, while Arizona hosts Oklahoma, Oregon travels to Florida and Houston visits Oklahoma State for series that open Friday. On Saturday, California opens at Kentucky, Baylor is at Georgia and Washington travels to Missouri.