No. 2 Softball To Compete At NFCA Leadoff Classic
THIS WEEK'S ACTION:
2002 NFCA LEADOFF CLASSIC.....Columbus, Ga.
Fri., Feb. 22...vs. No. 14 Cal State Fullerton (6-5)...5 p.m. EST/2 p.m. PST
Fri., Feb. 22...vs. Missouri (3-5)...7:30 p.m. EST/4:30 p.m. PST
Sat., Feb. 23...vs. No. 25 Massachusetts (3-2)...12:30 p.m. EST/9:30 a.m. PST
Sat., Feb. 23...Tournament Play Begins...TBA
Sun., Feb. 24...Tournament Play Continues...TBA
24 of the nation's top collegiate softball teams are set to participate in the seventh NFCA Leadoff Classic this weekend, beginning Friday, Feb. 22 in Columbus, Ga. That field includes No. 2 Stanford, the defending tournament champion and one of four teams in this year's draw that competed in last year's College World Series. The Cardinal, who will be attempting to become the first team to win back-to-back titles in Columbus, enter this weekend with a 9-0 record after going undefeated in four games last week to capture the championship of the 12th annual Campbell/Cartier Classic. Prior to last week's appearance in Poway, Calif., which included wins over Cal State Fullerton, Cal State Northridge, Utah State and San Diego State, the Cardinal routed UC Riverside 13-5 on the road to kick off the Southern California road swing.
Stanford in the National Rankings
Stanford softball moved up one spot from No. 3 to No. 2 in the latest USA Today/NFCA top-25 poll, as voted by 27 Division 1 softball coaches representing all areas around the country. The No. 2 ranking is the highest in program history for Stanford, which finished last year ranked third. The Cardinal will battle 11 teams this season currently ranked in the top-25, while competing in arguably the strongest conference in the nation. Currently, the top-10 schools in the nation are as follows: No. 1 ULCA, No. 2 Stanford, No. 3 Arizona, No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 5 LSU, No. 6 Washington, No. 7 California, No. 8 Arizona State, No. 9 Nebraska and No. 10 Michigan.
A Look at the Field.....2002 NFCA LEADOFF CLASSIC
The second of four tournaments for the Cardinal in 2002, this year's NFCA Leadoff Classic in Columbus, Ga., begins Friday morning and runs through the weekend. Stanford was awarded the tournament title last season by virtue of being the No. 1 seed in the Gold Bracket when rain washed out the semifinal and final rounds of the tournament. The tournament consists of six, four-team pools with three scheduled games for each team, with bracket play to follow on Saturday afternoon. First up for the Cardinal on Friday will be Cal State Fullerton (6-5), who the Cardinal edged 2-1 last weekend at the Campbell/Cartier Classic. Meanwhile, the Titans finished 3-1 and in fourth place at the tourney. Missouri (3-5) went 2-2 and took third place in the Mizzou Round Robin last Sunday after defeating Rhode Island 9-0 in the third place game. Massachusetts (3-2) has suffered two straight losses after beginning the season 3-0 and was blanked 1-0 by Arizona in its most recent contest. Other NFCA Leadoff participants include 2001 World Series competitors LSU, Michigan and Oklahoma, as well as softball powerhouses Washington, Fresno State, Alabama and Arizona State.
The Rittman File
John Rittman begins his sixth season at the helm of the Stanford women's softball program after being named head coach on July 12, 1996. In just five years on The Farm, Rittman has brought the Stanford softball program from a non-scholarship club-level program to a fully-funded championship contender. The 2001 season was the most impressive campaign under Rittman's tenure, as the Cardinal finished with its best single-season overall record at 54-16-1 and highest ranking at No. 3 in the USA Today/NFCA national poll. Rittman was awarded the 2001 Pac-10 Co-Coach of the Year honor and currently has accumulated a 210-100-1 overall mark while with the Cardinal. Prior to being named head coach at Stanford, Rittman spent four seasons as the assistant coach at Washington.
Highlanders No Match For Cardinal
The Cardinal had little trouble with its first opponent during last weekend's road trip, recording a 13-5 victory over UC Riverside in five innings. The Cardinal erupted for eight runs in the second inning and tallied five more in the top of the fifth to preserve the win over the Highlanders (2-7), who were limited to just two hits. Senior Jessica Mendoza's grand slam in the second inning highlighted the scoring, and senior Sarah Beeson chipped in with a 3-4 day at the plate and two RBI. Junior Tori Nyberg notched her third win of the year and struck out four in 3.2 hitless innings.
That's what four victories in four games translated to for the Card, who were making their sixth consecutive appearance at the event. Stanford was crowned tourney champs due to a runs allowed differential (6-8) with Pacific, which also went 4-0.
STANFORD 2, CAL STATE FULLERTON 1:
Stanford relied on its pitching Friday evening and posted a 2-1 win over Cal State Fullerton. Sarah Beeson's two-run double in the sixth inning gave Stanford the lead and Tori Nyberg made it hold up with a two-hit, 11-strikeout complete game effort.
STANFORD 4, CAL STATE NORTHRIDGE 2:
The second win of the tournament, a 4-2 verdict over Cal State Northridge, featured impressive play by Stanford's freshmen- Leah Nelsonand Meghan Sickler. Nelson had an RBI single in the win and Sickler drove in two runs with her first double.
STANFORD 7, UTAH STATE 3:
Jessica Allister homered and drove in a career-high five runs to lead the Cardinal to a 7-3 victory. Sarah Beeson was 3-3 at the plate, while Maureen LeCocq earned her third win of the season in a five-inning, two-strikeout effort on the mound.
STANFORD 9, SAN DIEGO STATE 0:
Jessica Allister and Kira Ching homered in a 9-0 shutout of the Aztecs. The Cardinal erupted for six runs in the fourth inning en route to the mercy-rule victory, while Tori Nyberg fanned seven hitters in five innings, while allowing two hits.
Beeson Paces The Card
Senior Sarah Beeson has been one of Stanford's hottest hitters in the early going, as the All-American leads the squad in batting average (.583), hits (14), doubles (5), RBI (10), total bases (19), slugging percentage (.792) and on-base percentage (.688). Beeson tore up opposing pitching in five games last weekend, finishing a combined 10-15 (.667) with six RBI and four runs scored.
What Else Is New?
Three-time First Team All-American senior Jessica Mendoza continues to pick up right where she left off in 2001. The 2001 FirstTeam All Pac-10 selection has started all nine games so far and is hitting .393 (11-28) with 11 runs scored, nine RBI and four stolen bases. Mendoza was equally tough at the dish last season, leading the Cardinal with a .405 average in 71 games started. In addition, Mendoza led Stanford in the following offensive categories: runs (70), hits (83), home runs (14), total bases (151), slugging percentage (.737), on-base percentage (.504) and stolen bases (31).
One of the reasons the Cardinal has been able to get off to such a fast start has been the solid pitching of junior Tori Nyberg. Nyberg is now 5-0 overall on the season, and has allowed just 11 hits and one earned run in 28.2 innings pitched for a 0.24 ERA. In addition, she has walked just 10 while striking out 34 and limiting the opposition to a .115 average. The junior hurler recorded three wins in three starts (UC Riverside, Cal State Fullerton, San Diego State) for the Cardinal last week, allowing four hits in 15.2 innings of work and striking out 22 batters.
Hoping For The 10 Spot
After starting the 2002 season 9-0, it's clear that the Cardinal are realizing the importance of getting off to a fast start. Stanford won its first 12 games to start the season last year and ran off seven consecutive victories to begin the 2000 campaign. One reason for the fast start this year might be the pitching- the Cardinal has not allowed more than five runs in any of the nine games so far this year.
Tourney-Tested Road Warriors
Stanford's four-week road journey continues this week at the prestigious NFCA Leadoff Classic in Columbus, Ga., as the Cardinal will not play at home until a doubleheader against Baylor on Mar. 5. In addition to last weekend's Campbell/Cartier Classic, Stanford competes at the Red Desert Classic (Mar. 1-3) and finishes tournament play with an appearance at the Speedline Invitational in Tampa, FL (Mar. 7-10). The Card was a combined 21-2-1 at the same four tournaments in 2001, including undefeated marks at the Red Desert Classic and NFCA Leadoff Classic.
Notes From The Dugout
Jessica Allister supplied the power surge for Stanford last weekend, as the junior went 4-7 with two home runs and eight RBI in Stanford's wins over Utah State and San Diego State on Saturday...Not far behind is Kira Ching, who homered against UC Riverside and is hitting .400 (10-25) with four doubles and seven RBI...Robin Walker continues to excel at the leadoff spot, scoring 11 runs and tallying 17 total bases as Stanford's table-setter...The Cardinal made the most of its scoring opportunities last weekend, recording big innings in several of its contets (8 runs in 2nd inning vs. UC Riverside, 5 runs in 5th inning vs. UC Riverside, 4 runs in 1st inning vs. Utah State, 6 runs in 4th inning vs. San Diego State)...Stanford is hitting .317 as a team (76-240) with 62 runs scored and 53 RBI so far.
Notes From Around The Bullpen
The Cardinal pitching staff has a combined ERA of 1.31, and has allowed just 36 hits and 11 earned runs in 59 IP...Opponents are hitting just .171 thus far...Maureen LeCocq has really been a dependable arm for the Card this season and picked up her third win over the weekend in a 7-3 Cardinal triumph over Utah State...Freshman Elizabeth Bendig made her Stanford pitching debut in the same game against the Aggies, throwing two hitless innings in relief.