Nevada softball ready for NCAA Tournament

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RENO - When Michelle Gardner re-started the Nevada softball program four years ago, winning a Western Athletic Conference title and making the NCAA Tournament were two of her goals.

Even Gardner admits that she's a bit surprised at how fast the Wolf Pack accomplished both.

"I knew we were headed in the right direction," Gardner said after her squad, led by sophomore pitcher Jordan McPherson, knocked off Hawai'i in a best-of-three series to win the WAC post-season tournament and earn a trip to the NCAAs for the first time in school history. "I didn't think it was going to happen this year; not that I didn't think we were capable.

"I knew we had what it takes. We took a significant leap. I think the second year (38-28) we overachieved. Last year we went 22-31 and couldn't put it together. We were still missing a couple of key players. This year, a lot of the parts came together."

Gardner, who is currently 115-125, has seven seniors on the team - centerfielder Cindy Elkins (.245, 5 HR, 16 RBI), pitcher Robyn Ford-Feliz (0-0, 6.18), pitcher Tiffany Hoeft (2-3, 5.25), catcher-designated player Lindsay Hall (.244, 17 RBI), outfielder Kari Stockstill (.200, 16 RBI), first baseman-pitcher Candice Rainwater (.285, 8 HR, 38 RBI) and shortstop Brittany Lorenzen (.322, 8 HR, 26 RBI).

This is a great moment for the university, but probably even bigger for the seniors, who are responsible for getting the program turned around.

"I hoped in four years we'd get the opportunity," Rainwater said. "When I came here, I didn't know what to expect. The program was just getting started, and that's the reason I came here because it would bring opportunities to underclassmen.

"I thought we had talent that first year. It was a matter of clicking with that group. I knew this year with the players we had coming back and the freshmen contributing, we had a big chance to do something special. I'm excited about it."

So is Lorenzen, who finally has been able to taste victory after a prep career at Basic High in Henderson and three seasons at Nevada where her teams failed to win championships.

'We've worked so hard," Lorenzen said. "This is the fourth year in a row we (the seniors) have worked together. This is an honor to be able to do this.

"Coach was able to get better players every year. The freshmen have stepped it up a lot. Us being the first class here, we've been able to help them, too."

Gardner makes no bones about the impact that the freshman quartet of ex-Douglas outfielder Brittany Puzey (.271, team-leading 39 RBIs), third baseman Sarah Hunt (.329, 23 RBIs), catcher Katie Stith (.240, 13 RBIs) and second baseman-outfielder Kym Silagyi (.266, 20 RBIs) have had on the team.

"Kym replaced Kristin Stith when she broke her arm," Gardner said. "I knew she would have an impact, but I didn't think it would be at second base. Katie and Jordan (McPherson) work so well together, and that's really important."

According to Rainwater, this is a pretty confident bunch that enters the first NCAA Tournament in school history.

Nevada has won 14 of its last 17 games, including a win over Fresno State and three wins over Hawai'i. Beating nationally ranked Fresno State in Fresno certainly helped the Pack's confidence. And the fact that McPherson is on fire in the circle is another reason the Pack feel good about themselves.

McPherson, 5-1 last weekend, worked 41 innings at the WAC Tournament, allowing 24 hits and four runs, none of them earned. She struck out 34 and walked only four. She was named the tournament MVP.

"She worked three straight games versus really good teams," Lorenzen said. "That's a lot. She was ready to go every game. Her heart got us to where we are."

"My team needed me," McPherson said. "I wanted to be the one that got the job done. I didn't feel like I threw 41 innings. If they told me to go out there and pitch another one, I would have done it."

And, she probably would have won again. That's just the kind of week it was for McPherson and the Pack.

Contact Darrell Moody at, or by calling (775) 881-1281

WHEN: Today, Saturday and Sunday. Double-elimination format

WHERE: Oregon State Softball Complex


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