Big Test Awaits No. 12/13 Cardinal In Palm Springs

Feb. 19, 2008

Stanford, Calif. - THE WEEK AHEAD: Having already secured its first 10 wins, the Stanford softball team will face its first big test of 2008 this weekend. The Cardinal heads to Cathedral City, Calif. to play six games this weekend, four of which are against top-25 opponents. Stanford begins the tournament against Florida Atlantic on Thursday night, and will take on Fordham, No. 6/8 Oklahoma, No. 21/18 Ohio State, No. 18/21 UNLV and No. -/25 Texas later in the weekend.

LAST WEEK: Stanford won six games last week, five of which were by run-rule. After taking care of Saint Mary's in five innings in a midweek contest, the Cardinal cruised through the Stanford Invitational and captured a tournament title for the second consecutive weekend. In the course of the six games, Stanford outscored opponents 57-4, and hit a whopping .400 as a team. Pitchers Missy Penna, Ashley Chinn and Becky McCullough combined for 41 strikeouts in 34 innings.

DOUBLE WHAMMY: Last week, bases frequently came in twos for the Cardinal, as seven Stanford players combined for 17 doubles. Junior Maddy Coon led the team with four doubles in the six games, while sophomores Alissa Haber and Shannon Koplitz each recorded three doubles. With 23 doubles in just the first two weeks, Stanford has already racked up more that a third of last year's team double total (67).

SHOTGUN START: Stanford is off to its best start since 2002, when the Cardinal won its first 11 games to start the season. Stanford's longest season-opening win streak was 12 games in 2001, and the 2008 Cardinal is looking to best that record this weekend. Stanford's longest overall winning streak came in 2002, when the squad won 16 games between Feb. 24 and Mar. 23.

LIGHTS OUT PITCHING: After throwing a no-hitter in the season-opener and earning USA Softball's first National Player of the Week award, junior Missy Penna continued her dominance in the circle in her second weekend of play. Penna earned five of the six Stanford wins, and struck out 31 batters in 23.1 innings. So far this season, Penna has thrown 43.1 shutout innings, allowed just two runs, given up just 12 hits and walked just five batters. She has shutout five opponents, and combined with freshman Ashley Chinn for two more. Last week's highlight? Penna struck out 12 of the 18 batters she faced against Wichita State on Friday, and, including fielding duties, was responsible for all but one of the 15 Wichita State outs. The Stanford ace enters the third week of the season with a 0.32 ERA and the best opposing batting average in the Pac-10 (.086). Her efforts have led Stanford to the top of the conference rankings in ERA, opposing batting average, least hits allowed and least runs allowed.

SUDDEN IMPACT: All five of Stanford's newcomers have already made an impact in their first two weeks of collegiate action. Highlighting the group is first baseman Melisa Koutz, who currently leads Cardinal starters with a .400 batting average. Last week, the Valencia, Calif. native recorded five hits, two doubles and a notable 11 RBI, helping Stanford to six wins. Freshman pitcher Ashley Chinn earned her second win against Santa Clara on Friday, allowing just three hits in her second complete game. Brittany Minder and Erikka Moreno both recorded their first collegiate hits last week, while Autumn Albers scored two runs for the Cardinal.

OUT OF THE PARK: Stanford added four more homeruns to its team total this weekend, bringing its tally up to five on the year. Three of those have been hit by sophomore catcher Rosey Neill, who is now just one long ball short of earning a place in Stanford's career top-10. Sophomore Shannon Koplitz hit her first homerun of the year against Santa Clara on Friday, and senior Michelle Smith launched her first of 2008 against the Broncos on Saturday. Smith's bomb was the 32nd of her career, tying her with Jessica Allister for third place on the Stanford career chart.

SOARING AVERAGES: After an offensive explosion last week, Stanford's batting averages have gone through the roof. Ten Stanford players are hitting above .300, and the entire starting line-up boasts on-base percentages of .300 or better. Returning All-American Alissa Haber became the first player to reach double-figure hits in 2008, cracking her tenth hit of the year in the fifth inning against Wichita State. As a team, Stanford is hitting .330, has outhit opponents 77-24 and outscored them 68-5.

PICK YOUR PITCH: Junior Maddy Coon knows how to be selective when she steps up to the plate. In her 33 times up this year, Coon has walked 15 times, solely accounting for a third of the free bases earned by the Cardinal. As a result, she leads the team with a .667 on-base percentage. Just a junior, Coon is already fifth on the Stanford career walks chart with 73.

CATCH US IF YOU CAN: Stanford players have stolen 13 bases in 14 tries this year. Just two weeks into the season, that total is nearly 40 percent of Stanford's steal total last year (35). Sophomore Michelle Schroeder is 3-for-3 stealing this year, pacing the Cardinal baserunners.

2007 IN REVIEW: In 2007, Stanford posted its 11th consecutive winning season with a 35-21-1 overall record, earned an NCAA berth for the tenth-straight time and advanced to the Stanford Regional Championship. Newcomer Alissa Haber led the Cardinal with a .365 batting average, while pitcher Missy Penna notched 12 shutouts, 25 wins and 308 strikeouts. The Cardinal won two games at the NCAA Regional at Smith Family Stadium, but was eliminated by the LSU Tigers in the regional championship game.

THE ONES TO WATCH: Junior pitcher Missy Penna and sophomore center fielder Alissa Haber were listed among the nation's most promising players for 2008 when the USA Softball Top-50 Preseason Player of the Year Watch List. Both Haber and Penna were All-Pacific Region picks last year, and Haber earned third-team All-America accolades. As a freshman last year, Haber led the Cardinal in nearly every offensive category, while Penna became just the second pitcher in Stanford history to record 300 or more strikeouts in a season. Both players are now in contention for the USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year award, which is considered one of the most prestigious honors in collegiate softball.

BACK IN ACTION: Stanford returns two All-Americans, three All-Pacific Region selections and seven All-Pac-10 players to the field in 2008. Sophomore Alissa Haber is coming off of her first career All-America honor, and senior Michelle Smith, a three-time All-Pac-10 pick and 2005 all-region pick, was an All-American in 2005. Junior Missy Penna was an all-region selection last year, and is a two-time All-Pac-10 choice. Becky McCullough, Tricia Aggabao, Shannon Koplitz and Maddy Coon have also been listed among the Pac-10's best in their careers.

NEW TO THE FIELD: Five new faces appear on the Cardinal roster this season, with all five being standouts from around California. Outfielder Autumn Albers is a four-time All-East Bay selection from Danville, while Ashley Chinn is a three-time Peninsula Athletic League Pitcher of the Year from Belmont. Catcher Brittany Minder is an all-state selection from Moreno Valley, and Melisa Koutz is a four-time All-Foothill League infielder from Valencia. The class is rounded out by infielder Erikka Moreno, a four-time All-Trinity League selection from Villa Park.

PAC-10 RUNDOWN: The Cardinal softball team was picked to finish fourth in the strongest collegiate softball conference in the country, when the annual Pac-10 Preseason Coaches Poll was released on Jan. 29. All eight Pac-10 teams were chosen to participate in the NCAA Tournament in 2007, with three teams advancing to the Women's College World Series. Arizona, which won both the conference and national titles last year, was voted to repeat its championship, while Arizona State and UCLA were picked to finish second and third, respectively. The Pac-10 has claimed 19 of the 26 all-time NCAA softball titles, and landed a team in the national title game 24 times. The league has sent at least seven of its eight teams to the NCAA Tournament in each of the last nine years.

TEAM USA TIES: Head Coach John Rittman was recently named to the coaching staff for the U.S. Olympic Team, where two former Cardinal standouts, Jessica Mendoza and Lauren Lappin, are currently training for the 2008 Beijing Games. Current Stanford sophomores Rosey Neill and Alissa Haber were both members of the USA Junior National Team that won a gold medal at the ISF Junior World Championship in Enschede, Netherlands last summer.

RECORDS WATCH: A number of current Cardinal players resumed their climbs up the program's career charts last week. Senior Michelle Smith, who shattered the single-season homerun record as a freshman, is looking to do the same to a few career records this year. Smith is now tied for third on the career homerun chart (32), fifth on the career RBI chart (143), tenth on the career walk chart (59) and fifth on the career assist chart (338). Junior Maddy Coon is among the program's all-time leaders in homeruns (8th, 13), doubles (10th, 28) and walks (5th, 73). Seniors Anna Beardman and Tricia Aggabao are among the program's leaders in triples, while senior Erin Howe is fifth on the all-time putouts list (797).

PITCHING TO THE TOP: Stanford's two returning pitchers are both among the program's best to ever enter the circle. Junior Missy Penna is fourth all-time with 55 career wins and third with 545 career strikeouts. Senior Becky McCullough is eighth all-time with 41 career wins and fifth with 289 career strikeouts. Penna's win against Long Beach State on Feb. 10 was the 50th of her career. She became the third pitcher in program history to reach the 500 strikeout plateau against San Diego on Feb. 8.

NO-HITTER CHATTER: Missy Penna's no-hitter against San Diego in the season-opener was the third of her career and the 14th in program history. Penna also kept UC Davis hitless as a freshman on Mar. 26, 2006 and Saint Mary's hitless last year, on Apr. 11, 2007. Including Penna, only five Stanford players have thrown no-hitters, and Dana Sorensen holds the program record with five. Penna's performance helped her earn USA Softball's National Player of the Week award as well as the Pac-10 Pitcher of the Week honor. Penna is the fifth Stanford player to earn a national weekly honor, joining Lauren Lappin, Dana Sorensen, Jessica Mendoza and Sarah Beeson. The Pac-10 award in the second of Penna's career, as she also earned the award following the FIU/adidas Invitational last year.

RITTMAN SIGNS ANOTHER ONE: John Rittman and his staff have signed yet another top-notch recruiting class for the 2008-09 school year. The class is headlined by Ashley Hansen (Tempe, Ariz.) who was the only high school player invited to the U.S. National Team tryouts in September. Additionally, Rittman has signed Jenna Becerra (Westlake Village, Calif.), Christina Goswiller (Manhattan Beach, Calif.), Maya Burns (San Francisco, Calif.), Sarah Hassman (Cupertino, Calif.) and Mary Kate Smith (Tampa, Fla.).

NATIONAL POLLS: After winning its first ten games, the Cardinal moved up another notch in both the USA Today/NFCA Poll and the Softball poll this week. The team came in at No. 12 and No. 13, respectively, one rung higher than last week in both polls. Stanford has been ranked in every regular-season NFCA poll for the last decade, dating back to Feb. 25, 1998. The squad reached a program-high No. 2 national ranking on two occasions during the 2002 season.

STANFORD AT THE PALM SPRINGS CLASSIC: Stanford attended the Palm Springs Classic in 2004 and 2006 and has recorded a 7-3 record at the elite event. At its last appearance in 2006, the Cardinal went 3-2 with wins over Texas Tech, Illinois-Chicago and Maryland and losses to Texas and Baylor.

STANFORD VS. THE FIELD: Stanford has only a brief history with the six teams it will meet this weekend. The Cardinal has defeated UNLV all four times the teams have met, and run-ruled them three of those times. Most recently, Stanford topped the Rebels, 3-0, at the 2005 Stanford Classic. Stanford is also undefeated against Florida Atlantic, defeating the Owls at the Speedline Invitational in 2001 and 2002. The Cardinal is 1-1 all-time against Oklahoma, and most recently eliminated the Sooners from the Women's College World Series in 2004. Stanford has never beaten Texas, dropping three games of two runs or less to the Longhorns in the last two seasons. Fordham and Ohio State are both newcomers to the Cardinal agenda.

SCOUTING FLORIDA ATLANTIC: The Owls captured the Sun Belt Conference title last year, but, without an automatic conference bid, did not make the NCAA field of 64. Head Coach Joan Joyce returns 11 letterwinners from that 42-win team, including three of the Owls' top five hitters. Junior Becky Brandies is the most notable offensive returner, after posting a .276 batting average, 21 RBI and four homeruns in 2007. The Owls are 4-5 after the first two weeks of 2008. Freshman Kerri Croney leads the team with a .389 average and four RBI. Sophomore pitcher Amber Barton has earned three of the team's four wins and posted a 1.60 ERA in her first seven appearances.

SCOUTING FORDHAM: The Rams finished second in the Atlantic 10 Conference last year, just missing a trip to the NCAA Tournament. After posting a 39-10 record in 2007, the squad is off to a 2-3 start in 2008. Fordham returns four of its six .300+ hitters from last year, including homerun-leader Allison Storc, RBI-leader Melissa Andrews and hit-leader Allison Twarowski. Additionally, the squad returns its top pitcher from last season, Nicole Ayres, who posted 17 wins, 137 strikeouts and a 2.12 ERA. So far in 2008, Twarowski and freshman Jocelyn Dearborn have been the top performers for the Rams, both hitting above .400 on the year.

SCOUTING OKLAHOMA: The Sooners went 55-7 last season and won the Amherst Regional in three games. The squad was eliminated by DePaul in its own Super Regional, however, just missing an appearance in the Women's College World Series. For 2008, Oklahoma is led by its three returning All-Americans: senior pitcher Lauren Eckermann, senior utility Susan Ogden and junior first baseman Samantha Ricketts. Ricketts hit .415 last year, notched 81 RBI, led the team with 18 homeruns and was a USA Softball National Player of the Year finalist. Ogden hit .381 with 36 RBI, while Eckermann earned 37 wins in the circle and posted a 1.66 ERA. This season, the Sooners are 9-2, and junior Traci Dickinson has been the top performer with a .476 batting average.

SCOUTING UNLV: The Rebels finished second in the Mountain West last year, but, despite a 37-27 record, failed to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Head Coach Lonni Alameda, a former Stanford assistant, has the Rebels rolling this year, however. The squad is ranked as high as 18th nationally, after posting a 9-1-1 record and downing Washington and Arizona State in back-to-back games. Leading the returners is sophomore all-conference selection Jaci Hull, who led the team in nearly every offensive category last year. The Rebels also return junior Brittany Bolinger, who hit .304 in 2007, and sophomore pitcher Stephanie Bregante, who won 12 games and struck out a team-high 130 batters last season.

SCOUTING OHIO STATE: The Buckeyes captured the Big 10 title in 2007, and were selected to host an NCAA Regional. The squad went 2-2, however, and was eliminated by Cal State Fullerton in the regional championship game. This year, Ohio State is 8-2, and ranked as high as 18th nationally. The team's top returners are a pair of 2007 All-Great Lakes Region selections, sophomore catcher Sam Marder and senior second baseman Brittany Vanderink. Marder hit .359 last year, and is already off to the best offensive start on the squad with a .593 average and four homeruns. Vanderink hit .333 in 2007, and is already hitting .543 in the first two weeks of this year. The Buckeyes top returning pitcher is Kim Reeder, who won 17 games, posted a 2.62 ERA and struck out 133 batters last year.

SCOUTING TEXAS: The Longhorns, who are off to a 5-2-1 start, are coming off of a 35-20 season that ended with a 2-2 record at the NCAA Regional in Gainesville. Texas is led by 2007 All-Midwest Region picks Tallie Thrasher and Loryn Johnson. Thrasher is .321 with 12 homeruns, while Johnson recorded 10 doubles and 30 RBI. Junior Kacie Gaskin and freshman Shelby Savony are currently leading the team with averages over .400, and Johnson has already recorded 12 doubles this year. Senior pitcher Meagan Denny has earned all five Longhorn wins, and struck out a team-high 56 batters.

HEAD COACH John Rittman: In his 12th season at the helm of the Cardinal, Head Coach John Rittman is one of the winningest coaches in collegiate softball, boasting a 465-224-3 (.674) career record to start 2008. Since stepping onto the Farm in July 1996, he has coached the team to 11 consecutive winning seasons, ten straight NCAA Tournament appearances and nine 40-win seasons. Under Rittman, Stanford has claimed a share of its first conference championship and made two appearances in the Women's College World Series. Recently, Rittman, who has been a member of the U.S. National Team coaching staff since 2001, was named an assistant coach for the 2008 USA Olympic Team that will compete at the Games in Beijing, China this summer.