Tuesday's doubleheader split with visiting Sacramento State indicates there's nothing smooth or easy about it. A few toe stubs along the way show a rough road.
"We have things to shore up," Stanford's second-year coach Jessica Allister said. "We're stuggling a little bit defensively and with the pitching. There's a lot of work to do."
The most significant change since Allister took over is in the belief Stanford can steadily move forward with a blend of talented, hard-working players intent on getting the program back on its feet.
Belief in one's own abilities and belief in the program, says Allister, is the most important piece.
"It is hard when you've lost as much as some of these players have," Allister said. "You can only put your heart on the line so many times before it becomes numb. I just remind them all why they came to Stanford and that's to be excellent."
The Cardinal (26-6) is on track for its first winning season in five years. Stanford is six games ahead of where it was at this point last year (20-12), when it finished 24-31.
"There are no quick fixes," Allister said. "It's not going to get any easier and at the same time I'm impressed with their never giving up. What's next is continuing to grow."
Last year, Stanford was 4-5 in one-run games. As of Tuesday's 8-7 victory over the Hornets, the Cardinal is 10-2 in one-run games, an indicator of the team's growing confidence.
Stanford has come from behind to win three of its previous four games until losing 5-2 in the second game Tuesday night. And the Cardinal had the bases loaded with one out in the bottom of the seventh.
The Cardinal got on the board first in game one, scoring a run in the bottom of the second, but a three-run Sacramento State third gave the visiting team the advantage. The Cardinal reclaimed the lead at 4-3 behind three fourth-inning runs, including a pair of sacrifice flies.
The Hornets drew even at four but Stanford once again responded with two in the sixth to carry a 6-4 lead into the seventh. That cushion did not last, as the Cardinal surrendered three runs on three hits and an error, forcing a bottom of the seventh.
The Cardinal rallied for a pair of runs to walk-off with the victory. After Hannah Howell and Emily Young singled to get the inning going, freshman Emily Schultz contributed the game-tying single through the right side to plate pinch-runner Taylor Gindlesperger.
Alyssa Horeczko followed by drawing a walk to load the bases with nobody out and Kristina Inouye hit a sharp ground ball to third that was kept in the infield but without a play as Young sprinted home for the win.
Four Cardinal hitters finished with two hits in the victory, including Teaghan Cowles, Howell, Schultz and Inouye.
Sophomore Maddy Dwyer, who logged the final two-thirds of an inning, was credited with the win after Stanford came back in its final at bat. The right-hander improved to 9-3 with the victory.
Sacramento State came out swinging in game two, scoring three runs on four hits and two Stanford errors in the first inning en route to opening up a 3-0 lead that it would not relinquish the rest of the way.
The Cardinal answered the first-inning runs with two of its own, including one on a Montana Dixon RBI triple, but Stanford would not cash in on any further opportunities in the game. The Cardinal ultimately stranded 10 runners on base, including the bases loaded in the final frame.
Freshman Emily Klingaman went 3-for-4 in the setback, while Young was 2-for-4 with a double and a triple. Cowles continued her torrid pace, going 2-for-4 with a run scored while hitting out of the leadoff spot in the order.
Stanford will return to Pac-12 play on Friday, traveling to Oregon State to open a three-game series at 5 p.m.
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