A Look Back: 2009 Softball Season In Review

June 9, 2009

Stanford, Calif. - With the 2009 collegiate softball season complete, the Stanford squad can look back on yet another year filled with team successes, program milestones and individual achievements.

The Cardinal went 48-11 (.814), marking the best winning percentage in school history, and once again finished among the top 10 in the major collegiate softball polls. Additionally, the team tallied its 11th 40-win season, made its 12th-straight NCAA Tournament appearance, advanced to its fourth NCAA Super Regional in five years and, after matching its best conference record ever (13-8), took fourth in the competitive Pac-10 Conference.

The squad held the No. 2 spot nationally for four weeks during the year, matching the program's best rank. It stayed in the top five for 13 weeks in a row, including the entire Pac-10 season, the longest top-five streak in school history.

With a highly-touted freshman class and a talented core of returners, Stanford opened the year with high expectations. Just four pitches into the season, rookie Ashley Hansen set the offensive tone, driving in the first of more than 300 2009 Cardinal runs with a two-run home run on her first collegiate at bat. Stanford scored 15 runs in five innings in the season opener, and seemed to be on track for a dominant 2009 campaign.

Later in the day however, Stanford was dealt a humbling blow when it was shutout by unranked Oklahoma State. The 1-0 loss would be the Cardinal's last for more than two months however, as the setback was followed by one of the longest winning streaks in NCAA history. The very next morning, the team began a run that included five tournament sweeps and 47 days, 188 innings and 28 games without suffering a loss. Stanford would not be shutout again until May 7, three months and 48 games down the road.

The Cardinal finished the opening weekend with three dominant wins, with senior pitcher Missy Penna no-hitting Kansas on Feb. 7 and junior catcher Rosey Neill belting three home runs to lead the offense. The Cardinal pair swept the Pac-10 Player and Pitcher of the Week awards and the team moved on to its next order of work.

From there, Stanford was on a roll. The Cardinal continued its notable run with four wins at the Campbell/Cartier Classic in San Diego, with two coming over ranked opponents. Hansen hit .667 with five extra-base hits to score the NFCA National Player of the Week award in just her second collegiate weekend, and Stanford took a seat among the nation's top five teams.

The Cardinal picked up speed by wiping out the field at its first home tournament, the Stanford Nike Invitational, then tacked on five more wins at the DeMarini Invitational in Fullerton. Penna, who posted her 1,000th career strikeout in a win over host Cal State Fullerton on March 1, began a streak of 53 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run.

The Cardinal returned to Smith Family Stadium for two more home tournaments, where Penna blanked five opponents and the team cruised to another pair of tournament sweeps. By the end of the Stanford Invitational, the team had built its impressive opening record to 28-1.

On March 23, Stanford put a fitting end to its most remarkable preseason in school history. Penna struck out a school-record 19 batters in 10 innings against Cal Poly, and senior Maddy Coon came up with the game-winning hit to lift Stanford to its 28th consecutive win. The streak tied the 17th-longest in NCAA history, was the longest by a Pac-10 team since 2001 and was 12 games better than the previous program record.

Stanford entered Pac-10 play with its best preseason winning percentage in school history (.967), boasting a perfect record at home.

UCLA, the eventual Pac-10 Champion, managed to snap the streak in the conference opener, but after the frustrating loss to the Bruins, the Cardinal made a dramatic turnaround.

On March 28, Penna outlasted Washington ace Danielle Lawrie in an 11-inning marathon at Smith Family Stadium, and a walk-off hit-by-pitch by Neill sent Stanford home with the win. Less than 24 hours later, Stanford repeated the upset to take the series from the eventual national champion, as junior infielder Shannon Koplitz connected on a Lawrie offering in the fourth inning for the game-winning home run. Penna held the eventual champs scoreless for 18 innings, and became the first Stanford player to sweep the national weekly honors handed out by USA Softball and the NFCA.

Stanford supplanted Washington in the nation's No. 2 spot, matching the highest rank in school history and marking the first time in program history that the team held the spot after the start of Pac-10 play.

Penna broke Stanford's career win record in an ensuing road sweep of the Oregon schools, then Hansen stepped up to help the team take the first game of the series from the Cal Bears. Despite losing two close games to finish the rivalry series, Stanford held its No. 2 spot in the polls for the third consecutive week.

Stanford hit a rough patch on its trip to the desert, dropping two of three games to the Arizona schools. The trip was highlighted by an extra-inning win over Arizona State in Tempe on April 18 however, when Penna shattered the school's career strikeout record and freshman Jenna Becerra came up with the game-winning hit in the eighth inning.

A home series against Oregon and Oregon State got the Cardinal back on track, as the team completed sweeps of the two schools for the second year in a row. With the win over the Beavers on April 25, the team secured its 11th 40-win season in 13 years under head coach John Rittman and reached No. 40 before the month of May for just the third time in school history.

With its confidence back, Stanford sought revenge for its slip-ups in Arizona. The Cardinal began with a 4-0 win in the rubber game with the Sun Devils, and Penna became the nation's first active pitcher to reach 1,200 K's in the nationally-televised broadcast.

The Cardinal then turned its attention to redeeming an eight-run loss to the Wildcats. On May 2, Ashley Chinn stepped up in the circle and kept the nation's top offense at bay. The Cardinal offense rallied behind her late in the game to give the sophomore her first career win over a ranked opponent.

The next day, Penna's last regular-season game at Smith Family Stadium, the senior ace tossed a one-hitter against the nation's most dangerous bats and led Stanford to its first series win in school history over Arizona. The win, which boosted Stanford into a share of the conference lead, also gave Stanford its first ever sweep of a series with the Arizona schools. For her effort, Penna swept the NFCA and USA Softball National Player of the Week awards for the second time.

With the Pac-10 title on the line, Stanford lost three games on its most grueling road trip of the year. Stanford was shutout for the first time in three months at Washington, then dropped two games to UCLA in Los Angeles.

Despite the frustrating end to the conference season, Stanford matched its best Pac-10 record in school history (13-8), took five of seven conference series' (including those with all three 2009 WCWS participants) and claimed fourth place in the nation's most competitive softball conference.

Thanks to its efforts throughout the regular season, the Cardinal was awarded the No. 8 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and earned the right to host an NCAA Regional for the fourth time in school history.

Hansen and junior Alissa Haber tag-teamed to lead Stanford to three dominant wins and a clean sweep of the Stanford Regional field. Combined, the leadoff pair went 14-for-22 (.636) with seven doubles and 13 RBI. Penna picked up all three wins in the circle and posted her 50th career shutout in the regional championship game against Cal Poly.

Facing a familiar foe in the NCAA Super Regional round, Stanford took the first game of the three-game series with Arizona but was unable to keep up with the nation's top offense on the second day of the series. After dropping the second game, the Cardinal came up just one run short of its third trip to the Women's College World Series in the deciding game.

The Cardinal finished the year at 48-11, having not lost to an opponent outside the Pac-10 since the Oklahoma State hiccup on the first day of the season. The Cardinal went 31-3 at Smith Family Stadium, beat the nation's top offense three of six times and was one of only two teams in the nation to beat eventual national champion Washington twice with its ace in the circle.

Stanford finished the year with the best winning percentage in the Pac-10 (.814), a program-best figure which ranked third nationally.

Haber led the Cardinal in nearly every offensive category for the second straight year, posting the squad's best batting average (.443) and pacing the team in hits (89), runs (61), doubles (26), on-base percentage (.507) and slugging percentage (.721). Hansen posted one of the program's most memorable rookie campaigns, setting freshman records with 84 hits, 24 doubles, five triples and 46 runs. Her .400 batting average and team-leading 55 RBI were second only to the rookie marks of two-time Olympian Jessica Mendoza.

Haber set a new school doubles record with 26 on the year, while Penna bested her own school record with 18 shutouts. Haber and Hansen were the first two players other than Mendoza to post .400 seasons, and the third and fourth players in school history to record 80 hits. They were the first pair to accomplish both feats in the same year.

Coon concluded her Stanford career as the sixth Stanford player to bat .300 or better (.303) and the fourth to slug over .500 (.529). After breaking the school record on Feb. 14, she finished her career as the school's all-time walk leader (139).

Penna concluded her career as arguably the most accomplished Stanford pitcher of all-time, as the two-time All-American left as the program's career win (119), strikeout (1,267), shutout (50), innings pitched (1,086.1) and no-hitter (5) leader. Over the course of her career, she also rewrote nearly every single-season and single-game Stanford pitching record and became the first Cardinal pitcher to record three 300-K seasons. Her May 21 win over Arizona pulled her into a tie with Jennie Finch as the 14th-winningest pitcher of all-time and the fourth-winningest in Pac-10 history. She was the first pitcher in Stanford history to reach 1,200 strikeouts and tied for 18th in NCAA history with a final tally of 1,267.

As a team, the 2009 Cardinal set a new school triple record (16) and, despite playing an abbreviated 53-game regular-season schedule, posted the second-most doubles (101), runs (308), RBI (277), stolen bases (63) and walks (201) in school history. The team also finished with the program's second-best batting average (.294) and second-best slugging percentage (.456).

Penna ranked among the top five pitchers nationally in shutouts (4th), strikeouts (5th) and wins (4th), while Haber and Hansen ranked first and second nationally with 26 and 24 doubles, respectively. Haber's .443 batting average was among the top 15 nationally, and was second only to Mendoza's 2000 figure (.475) in the Cardinal record books.

The Cardinal also reaped a number of postseason awards. Penna, Haber and Hansen were named All-Americans, extending Stanford's streak to 12 consecutive seasons of having at least one All-American. The three selections matched the most in school history and, with Haber and Penna both earning first-team nods, marked just the second time that the Cardinal had more than one on the top team.

Penna, Haber, Hansen and Koplitz earned All-West Region honors, while the foursome along with Coon and Neill were recognized by the Pac-10. Neill repeated as the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, while Hansen became Stanford's first Pac-10 Freshman of the Year since Mendoza was recognized a decade ago. Along with Hansen, rookies Maya Burns and Sarah Hassman were named to the Pac-10 All-Freshman Team.

Penna, who matched the previous conference record with five Pac-10 Pitcher of the Week awards during the year, was the first player in Stanford history to be among the final 10 USA Softball National Player of the Year finalists.

At the end of the year, the Cardinal bid farewell to two outstanding seniors, both four-time All-Pac-10 selections, who made immeasurable contributions to the Stanford program.

With 14 players returning, including two All-Americans and four All-Pac-10 picks, the Cardinal is primed to reach even greater heights in 2010.

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