No. 8 softball one win away from Supers

Junior righty Missy Penna hasn't allowed a run, despite tossing every Stanford pitch through two games in Amherst, Mass. She's scattered just six hits across those 14 innings, leading Stanford to a 3-0 blanking of Massachusetts Saturday afternoon and a 4-0 Friday victory over Lehigh.

On 9 a.m. (PT) Sunday, Stanford will play the winner of Saturday afternoon's elimination games. Whoever the Cardinal's opponent (likely again Massachusetts, if the seedings hold up), Stanford will have two opportunities to win a single game, and advance out of the double-elimination bracket into Super Regional play next weekend.

No. 8 Stanford 3, No. 20 Massachusetts 0

Stanford (48-12) 210 000 0
Massachusetts (40-12) 000 000 0

WP: Penna (36-10)
, 7 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 11 K, 1 BB
LP: Balschmiter, Brandice (29-7), 7 IP, 3 R, 7 H, 6 K, 2 BB

Balschmiter's early control problems were all Stanford needed to claim the W. The Cardinal's leadoff hitter, centerfielder Alissa Haber, walked on four pitches to start the game. Second baseman Shannon Koplitz singled Haber to third on the next at-bat. Balschmiter's wild pitch the next at-bat scored Haber, and catcher Rosey Neill's one-out single would score Koplitz. Two straight strikeouts got Balschmiter out of the inning without further damage.

Rightfielder Anna Beardman added an insurance run in the second. She singled with one out, stole second, advanced to third on a Haber groundout, and then scored on a Koplitz single.

Beardman managed three hits and Koplitz two on the game, but Stanford's remaining seven batters only produced a combined two hits. In fact, after the first two innings, Stanford's hitters had three 1-2-3 innings and only once got into scoring position, on a Beardman double. Balschmiter had won 24 straight games, and enterred Saturday's contest leading the nation in ERA. So, even though New England softball isn't Pac-10 level, perhaps Balschmiter had a little to do with the Card's offensive struggles.

Penna ensured that none of that would matter, however. Even by the standards of softball, an offensively-challenged sport, her performance was nothing short of sublime. Just three runners reached base, one apiece in the third, fourth and seventh. Only one runner would advance as far as second, leftfielder Lauren Proctor with one out in the fourth inning.

But Penna ended that inning just like she would so many Minutewomen at-bats Saturday afternoon, with a strikeout looking and then a strikeout swinging.

No. 8 Stanford 4, Lehigh 0

Lehigh (35-16-1) 000 000 0
Stanford (47-12) 101 002 x

WP: Penna (35-10)
, 7 IP, 0 R, 4 H, 14 K, 2 BB
LP: Sweeney (25-4), 6 IP, 4 R, 8 H, 5 K, 2 BB

Penna didn't just earn the win Friday night; she stole the headlines. Lehigh simply wasn't used to a pitcher of her caliber. It showed early, as Penna followed a leadoff single by striking out eight straight Lehigh batters.

Stanford already led 1-0 by that point, on shortstop Maddy Coon's solo one-out homer in the first. That was ample cushion for Penna, who allowed just two runners to reach second and one ball to leave the infield in her complete-game victory.

"I thought we took advantage of some early situations," coach John Rittman said in a postgame press conference. "The homerun took some pressure off us at the plate and eased our hitters."

Lehigh's best chance game in the fourth, with runners on first and second and one out. But, like against Massachussets, Penna ended that inning with two straight strikeouts, and Lehigh never brought a leading run to the plate again.

"I was just trying to hit my spots," Penna said in the press conference. "I tried to stay under control and throw my pitches. Different pitches work on different days, and today the rise ball was working well."

Seven different Cardinal hit against Lehigh's Lisa Sweeney, and so Stanford was a bit unlucky to score only four runs. In fact, the Card left six on-base in as many offensive innings.

Haber pushed Stanford's lead to 2-0, tripling to left on a 1-1 pitch before Koplitz singled her in the next at-bat. In the sixth, designated player Melisa Koutz and Beardman singles each scored another run, to bring the final margin to 4-0. Though a Haber flyout ended the inning with two on base, her two hits on the afternoon led the team.

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