April 29, 2010

By Joanna Gail
Special to NCAA.com

Sam Pappas knows she shouldn't get upset.

The Las Flores, Calif., native wants the impossible; she wants to be perfect.

"I can't help it," she says. "I'm a perfectionist. I know it's not realistic. It's just, I know I can always do better."

The lefty slugger, who plans to study nursing at Oregon, shouldn't be so hard on herself. In arguably the best conference in the nation, one that boasts seven of eight teams in the top 20 rankings nationally, Pappas tops the Pac-10 in batting (.453), and ranks top 10 in slugging (fifth, .803), total bases (fifth, 94), on-base percentage (sixth, .515), hits (sixth, 53), home runs (eighth-tie, 11), and RBI (eighth, 42).

On the national scene, the red-hot right fielder continues to rank among the country's top hitters: 10th in batting, 24th in slugging, 18th in RBI, 48th in on-base percentage and 51st in home runs.

With help from Pappas and a handful of young rising stars, Oregon is enjoying an unexpected resurgence in 2010 under the guidance of a talented new coaching staff. Already, the Ducks have more than doubled their Pac-10 Conference wins (7) than in all of 2009 (3) with half the conference schedule still left to play.

Pappas is no stranger to success. As a high school senior, she collected First-Team All-State, All-County and All-League recognitions while leading Tesoro to a CIFSS Division III championship. The Southern Section Division III Player of the Year not only paced her team in hitting (.438 avg, 22 RBI, 5 HR), she also carried her team in the circle; throwing every game (26-4), striking out 230 hitters and stifling opposing batters to a .156 average.

Still, Pappas was unprepared for the workload expected at a Pac-10 Division I University, she said.

"Lift every day, run every day, practice every day... we do so much work off the field that I wasn't expecting," Pappas said. "[But when] game time comes, we let our preparation take over."

Pappas is not only making the transition from high school to college, she's also juggling the adjustment of moving from the pitching circle to the outfield. And, just like she did when she moved to Eugene, she's taken the second adjustment in stride.

"I get to focus more on hitting now," she said. "It's really difficult to focus on both when you have the added responsibility of pitching. "

One member of the new coaching staff can relate to Pappas' pitching transition. First year assistant Lisa Dodd enjoyed a similar storied high school career out of San Diego, Calif. The 2003 Gatorade National Prep Player of the Year and UCLA stand-out knows exactly how difficult it is to manage duties in the circle and at the plate, she said.

"[When I was pitching] there would be times when I would come into the dugout, not completely focused as a hitter for my next at-bat because I would be thinking about pitches I had just thrown," Dodd said. "[But being a pitcher] is a huge advantage; you see the game on a different level. You're able to understand a pitcher's tendencies, pick up spins, you just develop a broader picture of the game."

Dodd, who spent one year as an assistant at Nevada before returning to the Pac-10, recognizes those same skills in Pappas, "Sam is a leader by example. She understands the game. It comes so naturally to her. She's able to pick pitches, read tendencies; she's so strong she can mishit a ball out of the park."

Both Dodd and Pappas have high hopes for the remainder of the 2010 season.

"After seeing Top 10 teams play [on TV] and seeing the other teams in the Pac-10, I truly believe there isn't anyone we can't play with," Dodd explains.

"We're going to take it one game at a time, but we're confident," she continues.

Pappas, who picked up her first Pac-10 Player of the Week for a six-game tear in late March, will lead the Ducks into familiar territory for Dodd this coming weekend.
Dodd, for one, is excited about the return to Westwood, saying, "I love UCLA, and I loved my time there," she begins.

"At the same time, I want to beat them. I want to shake hands and give them hugs, and know that we beat them," she laughs.

The Ducks square off against the UCLA Bruins for a three-game series in Westwood starting Friday at 7 p.m. PST.