Softball looks to reload

Feb. 11, 2010, 12:45 a.m.

The No. 10 Stanford softball team opens its season today when it takes on Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in the first game of a tournament at the University of Hawaii.

The Cardinal will play four more games this weekend, one each against McNeese State and the University of Hawaii before the teams conclude with a mini four-team, single elimination tournament on Saturday.

The trip to Hawaii is the beginning of a highly anticipated season for the Cardinal, as it tries to achieve its goals of winning the Pac-10 Conference title and reaching the College World Series.

Last season ended on a sour note for Stanford, losing a three-game series to the University of Arizona in the Super Regionals and thus missing out on a chance to go to the College World Series.

Softball looks to reload
Senior third baseman Shannon Koplitz and the No. 10 Cardinal look to surpass last year’s Super Regional team in 2010. Stanford will have to replace All-American pitcher Missy Penna and second baseman Maddy Coon. (Stanford Daily File Photo)

Stanford, picked to finish fourth in the conference, returns eight starters from last year’s team, though it will be difficult to replace the two seniors that did graduate — Missy Penna and Maddy Coon.

Penna was Stanford’s No. 1 pitcher for all four of her years on the Farm, compiling 119 wins and 1,267 strikeouts.

Head coach John Rittman admitted the difficulty in losing Penna and Coon.

“To replace two kids that started pretty much every game in their careers is difficult,” Rittman said. “Maddy and Missy meant so much to this program.”

Rittman, however, brought in one of the nation’s top recruiting classes this year to help ease the losses.

Charged with replacing the All-American Penna in the circle will be a combination of highly-touted freshman Teagan Gerhart — sister of Stanford football running back Toby Gerhart and freshman catcher Kelsey Gerhart — and junior Ashley Chinn.

Although Rittman doesn’t expect either pitcher to be Penna immediately and admits that he doesn’t have a No. 1 yet, he does have faith in both of their abilities.

“Ashley has a lot of experience, and I believe she is ready to step up and be a go-to pitcher,” Rittman said. “Teagan was highly recruited and we are looking for her to pitch big innings for us.”

Teagan Gerhart understands that there may be some bumps in the road early on, but she appears to be ready to play whatever role Rittman asks of her.

“I know it’s going to be hard,” she said. “But I’m up for the challenge and I can’t wait for the season to start.”

Taking over for Coon at second base will be sophomore Ashley Hansen. Hansen was a Second-Team All-American a year ago, playing shortstop for the Cardinal. But this year, she will take her leadership skills and rocket arm to the right side of the infield.

Although it is a move she may not be completely thrilled about, Hansen — who was one of two Stanford players to play for the U.S. National Team this summer — says she is prepared to do what is best for the team. If that is for her to play second base, then that is what she will do.

“I’m comfortable at wherever coach puts me on the field,” Hansen said. “Obviously I love playing shortstop, but I’ll do what I need to do to make the team better. It’s a new challenge, and I can still be a leader at second base.”

Replacing Hansen at shortstop is one of the headliners of Stanford’s seven-woman freshman class, Jenna Rich.

Rich will also serve as the team’s third pitcher and No. 3 hitter in the lineup. How she fares this season could be a strong indicator of Stanford’s success. She will also have the task of hitting behind two All-Americans in the lineup: senior leftfielder and leadoff hitter Alissa Haber and Hansen.

Haber is a three-time All-American and the other Stanford player to play for Team USA this summer. She is a five-tool player who will again be looked at to lead the Stanford offense. She also understands that this is her last shot at making a College World Series.

“I’m just trying to get better every day — I understand that the end point is drawing near,” Haber said. “I’m trying not to put too much pressure on myself because I know this team has a lot of talent and depth.”

Haber has been remarkably consistent for three years and, along with Hansen, is expected to get on base and make sure that the team scores enough runs to offset the loss of Penna.

Rounding out the projected starting lineup is senior catcher Rosey Neill, who is a two-time Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and the team’s biggest power threat; senior third baseman Shannon Koplitz, who is expected to occupy one of the slots in the middle of the Cardinal lineup; sophomore centerfielder and speedster Sarah Hassman; and sophomore rightfielder Maya Burns.

There will be a tight position battle at first base between junior Melisa Koutz and sophomore Jenna Becerra, with the loser likely to occupy the designated player spot in the lineup. (Although when Teagan Gerhart pitches, she will probably hit for herself).

This Cardinal team should be very different from the ones over the past few years, as offense will likely be abundant. One thing has not changed, however, and that is the ultimate goal of winning a national title.

Hansen put it best, saying, “The goal is to win the last game of the season. Everything else is a disappointment.”

That goal starts today in Hawaii, and if all goes well, ends in Oklahoma City in June.

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