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May 26, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, May 26, 2004
NCAA SOFTBALL

Stanford returns to CWS Stanford returns to CWS (May 26, 2004)as wishes pay off for Sorensen, Nelson

by Rick Eymer

Senior pitcher Dana Sorensen wanted to be on the field for the final out. Junior first baseman Leah Nelson just wanted to be there. They both got their wish.

Sorensen pitched the Stanford softball team into the Women's College World Series, culminating an outstanding NCAA Regional showing with a two-hit, 3-1 victory over Hofstra on Sunday in the championship game at Stanford.

Nelson was one of the hitting stars of the tournament. Her solo home run in the fourth snapped an 11-inning scoreless streak and helped open the door for Stanford's second ever trip to Oklahoma City.

"This is amazing," said Nelson, who hit .500 for the tournament, with two home runs. "It's always been a dream of mine to go to the World Series as a player, and not as a spectator."

Nelson, who grew up in Oakland, watched plenty of Cal-Stanford softball doubleheaders and was in the stands the last time the Cardinal - in 2001 - qualified for the College World Series.

On Sunday, Nelson clutched the final out of the regional and jumped into the middle of the on-field celebration.

Sorensen, a sophomore when Stanford last earned a spot in Oklahoma City, was the winning pitcher in 2001, but was in the dugout when the celebration began. She wasn't going to miss this one.

"I was a little disappointed the last time not to be on the field," she said. "I wanted to be there this time. The first one was incredible but this is so amazing because we're the first class (with senior catcher Jessica Allister) to go twice in our career. That's something special."

Stanford (47-17) meets Pac-10 rival UCLA (43-9) in the first round of the double elimination tournament on Thursday at 11:30 a.m. PDT (ESPN). The tournament continues through Monday.

Stanford, which finished in a second-place tie in the Pac-10, is joined by conference rivals UCLA, Washington and California among the eight teams. Conference champion and the nation's top-ranked team, Arizona, was upset in its regional and failed to qualify.

Oregon and Oregon State each lost in the regional finals.

"It goes to show how hard it is to get to the World Series," said Stanford coach John Rittman, the Pac-10's Coach of the Year. "Arizona was in a tough regional. To get this far, it's a huge accomplishment. There's so much parity now, and it showed this weekend on this field."

Sorensen was spectacular over the weekend, but particularly on Sunday. She pitched 13 2/3 innings, taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning of the championship game after taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning of an earlier 1-0 loss to Hofstra that forced an extra game.

In all, Sorensen struck out 51 in 32 2/3 innings, allowing four unearned runs (0.85 ERA) and 14 hits. She has 344 strikeouts in 275 innings this season, setting a single-season school record for strikeouts.

Getting to her second World Series means something different though.

"The first time went, we were like kids in a candy store," said Sorensen. "Now we know what's in store and what to expect. When it gets to this point, it's nice to know the teams involved."

Stanford finished in a respectable third-place tie the last time they traveled to Oklahoma City, getting eliminated by Arizona, 1-0. UCLA sent Stanford into the loser's bracket the last time.

"We have some unfinished business," said Rittman.

Stanford beat the Bruins once in three tries during the season, and did not play Michigan (54-11) or LSU (54-10), the other two teams in their bracket.

The Cardinal will face either LSU or the Wolverines in the second round. They are 2-1 against the Tigers, and 2-3 lifetime against Michigan.

Washington (40-17) meets Oklahoma (43-20-1) and California (50-11) plays Florida State (61-10) in the other bracket's first-round games on Thursday.

Stanford went 1-2 against Cal and swept three games from Washington.

"Our two seniors (Sorensen and Allister) have been our leaders all year," said Rittman. "In the second half they stepped up their game."

Allister is enjoying her best season yet, taking a .346 batting average (and a .633 slugging percentage) into the College World Series. She leads the team with 11 homers and 52 RBI.

"I made some adjustments over the summer," said Allister. "I'm hitting my pitches as opposed to hitting the pitcher's pitch, and I'm feeling confident."

Her 52 RBI is fourth best for a single season, one behind Sarah Beeson's effort in 2000. Allister ranks third on the career RBI list with 159, and second on the career home run list with 31. Her 212 hits are fifth on the school's career list.

Catalina Morris also homered in the championship game while Jackie Rinehart and Lauren Lappin each had two hits.

Sorensen, who started all five games over the weekend, rebounded from the tough loss earlier in the day to earn tournament MVP honors after winning the final game.

"At that point I was ready to win at any cost," said Sorensen, who did not allow an earned run and struck out five in the title game. "My legs were a little tired. It was all adrenaline."

Nelson, Rhinehart and Allister joined Sorensen on the all-Region team.

Hofstra's Adrienne Clark shut out the Cardinal in the day's first game, and got through the first three innings of the championship game unscathed before Nelson led off the fourth with a towering home run, her fifth of the year, over the scoreboard in left field.

"I just relaxed up there and felt confident," said Nelson. "I just adjusted and stayed back a little bit."

Nelson, who hit a home run in Stanford's 7-1 victory over Hofstra on Saturday, hit a long foul two pitches earlier. She didn't miss her second chance.

"How many scoring opportunities did we have?" asked Rittman. "We finally needed to hit one out of the park. It was like a huge weight lifted off our shoulders."

Stanford added another run in the inning when Elizabeth Bendig followed Nelson's homer with a single. She advanced to second on a wild pitch, and scored when Katherine Hoffman doubled into left field.

Morris' seventh homer of the season, a solo shot in the fifth, made it 3-0.

Stanford survived a scare in the seventh when the Pride loaded the bases with one out on a hit, walk and error. Sorensen got the next two hitters to ground out to Bendig at third and the celebration was on.

"It was probably the toughest predicament we could put ourselves in losing the first game," said Rittman. "We need to enjoy this and let it sink in."

Nelson hit .500 (6-of-12) and drove in six runs, while Allister hit .400 and drove in five. Rinehart hit safely in all five games, with three multi-hit games, and batted .421. Lappin hit .438 and scored five times.

Stanford opened the tournament with a 1-0 victory over Utah on Thursday, followed by a 7-2 victory over Pacific on Friday.

Bendig's fourth-inning single scored Lappin with the only run of the game against Utah as Sorensen masterfully twirled a three-hitter with 14 strikeouts.

Allister drove in five runs and Nelson drove in the other two against Pacific. Morris and Meghan Sickler each had three hits in the game.

In Saturday's win over Hofstra, Nelson hit a three-run homer in the fifth. Bendig singled home two runs in the first.


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