June 5, 2008
Stanford, Calif. -
With the conclusion of the 2008 collegiate softball season, the Stanford squad can look back on a season of successes. The Cardinal finished with its 10th 40-win season, posted the second-most wins in school history, made its 11th-straight NCAA Tournament appearance, advanced to its third NCAA Super Regional in four years and took fourth in the competitive Pac-10 Conference.
From her first pitches of the year, it was clear that pitcher Missy Penna had something special in store for the 2008 season. On Feb. 8, Penna stepped on the field for the season-opener and threw a 14-strikeout no-hitter. The next day, she shut out Long Beach State, a team which eventually earned a top-16 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The next day, she shut out the 49ers again. By the time the weekend was complete, Penna had thrown 21 shutout innings, without allowing a single walk, and given up just five hits. She finished the weekend with 27 strikeouts, and was named USA Softball's National Player of the Week, just the fourth Stanford player to ever earn a national weekly honor.
With four wins under its belt after the opening weekend, the Cardinal was quickly on a roll. Penna continued to dominate in the circle, and it was eight games and 42 strikeouts into the season before the junior ace finally allowed a run. Stanford run-ruled its first five opponents at Smith Family Stadium, wiping out the field at the Stanford Invitational I to begin the home season.
From there, the Cardinal headed to the Palm Springs Classic to test its strength at one of the nation's most competitive preseason tournaments. There, the Cardinal simply performed. After winning its first two games, the Cardinal stunned then-No. 6 Oklahoma thanks to a sixth-inning homerun by senior Michelle Smith. The next day, the Cardinal took down two more ranked opponents to extend the longest season-opening win streak in school history to 15 games. The streak ended on the team's final day in Palm Springs with a close loss to Texas, but Stanford rallied the next weekend to rout four opponents at the Worth Invitational in Fullerton. On the final day of the tournament, the Cardinal came within three outs of upending eventual NCAA top seed Florida, but a walk-off homerun handed Stanford just its second loss of the year, 4-3.
Stanford bounced back quickly, however, continuing to establish itself as a dominant top-10 team. The squad began a string of 15 consecutive home games with a win over Boston College, and went on to post seven shutouts over the next two weekends and sweep two consecutive home tournaments.
A win over UC Davis on Mar. 26 put the finishing touches on a preseason to remember. The 15-game opening run marked the best start in school history and the program's second-longest winning streak overall. The squad nabbed its 30th win on Mar. 22, hitting the milestone at the earliest date in program history (and for just the third time before the month of April). Despite playing a schedule that included five nationally-ranked teams, Stanford entered Pac-10 play with its best winning percentage in school history (.941). Finally, the squad scored in a program-record 35 straight games before being shut out.
Stanford hit a rough patch to start Pac-10 play, however. Despite playing two extra-inning games and going 13 innings against eventual national champion Arizona State, the Cardinal dropped its first five Pac-10 contests.
After a frustrating loss to Washington in Seattle, the Cardinal made a dramatic turnaround. On Apr. 6, freshman Melisa Koutz cracked a game-winning hit to beat the Huskies on their home field and Stanford surged to win 11 of its next 14 conference games.
First, the Cardinal swept the Oregon schools at home, handing Head Coach John Rittman his 500th career win with a run-rule victory over Oregon State on Apr. 11. Stanford then took two out of three from rival California before clinching the series with Washington in a 10-inning, nationally-televised thriller.
After two close setbacks to UCLA, the Cardinal began a stretch of four weeks on the road that would see Stanford travel more than 12,000 miles to play 12 games in less than a month.
The stretch began in Oregon, where the Cardinal completed season sweeps of both Oregon schools in the same season for the first time in school history.
Four days after completing the road sweep, the Cardinal was playing at Farrington Stadium in Tempe, Ariz. where the team pulled out its biggest upset win of the season. In one thrilling night, Penna struck out a school-record 17 batters, broke the school's single-season strikeout record, matched the school's single-season win record and carried the team to a 2-1, ten-inning upset of eventual national champion Arizona State. Koutz recorded her first collegiate homerun and her third game-winning hit in Pac-10 play to lift Stanford to victory.
The Cardinal completed the conference season with an 11-10 record, 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. 12 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and was sent across the country to Amherst, Mass. to kick things off. Junior Maddy Coon belted a first-inning homerun to lead Stanford to victory over Lehigh in the opening game, and sophomore Shannon Koplitz had two clutch hits to carry Stanford to a 3-0 victory over host UMass in the second game. On Championship Sunday, Stanford suffered a frustrating loss in the first game, but, on the back to Penna, Stanford rallied to claim its fifth regional title. The Cardinal ace fanned nine and threw her second no-hitter of the year, while sophomore Rosey Neill belted her school-record 19th homerun.
Stanford was unable to oust eventual NCAA finalist Texas A&M in the College Station Super Regional, and finished its season with a 49-15 record. Sophomore Alissa Haber led the team in batting average (.374), hits (77), runs (49), on-base percentage (.465) and doubles (16) for the second straight year, while Neill paced the team with a Pac-10 best and school record 19 homeruns, became the fifth player in school history to record 50 RBI in a single-season and posted a team-high .713 slugging percentage. Coon set a new school record with 47 walks on the year.
Penna set a school record with 37 wins, pitched a school-best 335 innings and became the eighth player in Pac-10 history, and the first at Stanford, to record 400 or more K's in a single-season.
The Cardinal also reaped a number of postseason awards. Penna and Haber were named All-Americans, extending Stanford's streak to 11 seasons of having at least one All-American. Penna, Haber, Neill and Coon earned All-Pacific Region honors, while the foursome along with seniors Tricia Aggabao, Erin Howe and Smith were recognized by the Pac-10. Neill, who led the Pac-10 with 19 homeruns, was named the Pac-10 Co-Defensive Player of the Year, while Koutz claimed a spot on the conference all-freshman team in the first year of its existence.
At the end of the year, the Cardinal bid farewell to five outstanding seniors who finished their careers in College Station having made immeasurable contributions to the Stanford program.
With 11 players returning, including both of its All-Americans and all four All-Pac-10 picks, the Cardinal is primed to reach even greater heights in 2009.