Feb. 18, 2009

By Kyle Kensing

Stanford senior pitcher Missy Penna has lofty goals.

“Every year, the ultimate goal is to make the College World Series,” the Cardinal hurler said Sunday, the same day Stanford completed a perfect 4-0 showing at the Campbell-Cartier Classic in San Diego.
Big aspirations require a big arm, and the Cardinal have that in Penna.

She garnered Pac-10 Player of the Week honors Feb. 9. Her encore was a shutout of UC Santa Barbara Thursday, Penna’s third consecutive complete-game goose egg. One more shutout makes No. 36 for Penna, which would etch her name into the Cardinal record books as the all-time leader.
Penna wrapped up the weekend on as strong a note as it began, keeping No. 24 San Diego State in check after falling into a 2-0 hole. While she bore down, the offense rallied, leading the Cardinal to a convincing 9-2 final. Following the win, her ERA is a hair above one at 1.02, opponents are batting .148 against her and she has 68 strikeouts – an average of just below 10 a game.

With a pace like that, it’s no wonder Penna is the actively career leader for Ks with 971. She should eclipse 1,000 this weekend when Stanford plays its first home games of 2009, with the Cardinal slated to play six games in the Stanford Nike Invitational. 

Penna’s early success this season has correlated into equal success for the squad. The SDSU victory pushed the Cardinal to 8-1 on the campaign and marked Stanford’s seventh consecutive win. For her efforts, Penna was nominated for a second straight conference Player of the Week honor.

“It’s nice to start on a strong note,” she said. “We did that last weekend [at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz.] and we want to continue on that weekend after weekend.”

Building momentum before conference play is critical, Penna said, because she and the rest of the Cardinal “knew how the Pac-10 was going to be before [the season] started.”

The road to Oklahoma City is paved through Pac-10 country -- the last three national champions are from that conference, and only two squads outside of it have captured the title this decade.

The conference features five teams currently in the top 10, with a sixth, Arizona, at No. 11.

“Every game is going to be a challenge,” Penna said. “We know every game, all season, is going to be a good game.

“We just want to bring enthusiasm to every game and leave it all on the field.”

Keeping Up With The Pac
Twenty-one Pac-10 teams have hoisted the NCAA championship trophy since 1982, a nearly 80 percent success rate. In that same timeframe, the SEC is without a national champion.

This could be the year that changes: SEC teams Alabama and Florida inhabit the top two spots in the latest polls. The No. 1 Tide have rolled over opponents through the campaign’s first two weeks: no team has scored more than two runs against ‘Bama, and the team’s smallest margin of victory is five.

No. 2 Florida has had similar success. The Gators get better every time out, wrapping up their own tournament with a pair of 13-0 routs of South Alabama and Florida Atlantic.

Both the Crimson Tide and Gators have a chance to prove the SEC’s mettle against the championship-monopolizing Pac-10. Florida faces defending national champion and seventh ranked Arizona State Thursday, then 2008 WCWS participant and No. 3 Washington Friday. The Huskies had an impressive weekend and are riding positive momentum heading into the Cathedral City Classic in Palm Springs.

Alabama meanwhile has No. 6 UCLA and fourth ranked Oklahoma on its docket. A third top ranked SEC squad, No.10 Tennessee, is also in action at the 32-team desert mega-tournament.

Cathedral City Classic Showdown
The list of participating squads at this year’s Cathedral City Classic is a Who’s Who of softball heavyweights. The Gators and Tide will be in attendance, as will Washington, Tennessee, Arizona State, UCLA and Oklahoma all converge on Palm Springs. In total, 13 nationally ranked squads are slated for the tournament – over half the Top 25.

As a result, nearly every match-up is ranked team vs. ranked team with North Carolina, Ohio State, Nevada, Northwestern, Massachusetts and Fresno State also in the fray.

There are several hundred miles and nearly four months separating Palm Springs from Oklahoma City, but a strong showing in the former could prove a beneficial pit stop en route to the latter.