Puzey produces in the clutch for Wolf Pack

RENO - When her Nevada softball career is over next May, Brittany Puzey will have fond memories of April 4, 2008.

Puzey doubled home an insurance run in an extra-inning victory over arch-rival Fresno State, and in doing so became the school's all-time RBI leader surpassing Candace Rainwater, who drove in 104 from 2003-06.

"I think my family was more excited about it than I was," said Puzey, who helped the Pack take over first place in the WAC after a weekend sweep of Hawaii. "I didn't even know I was close to a career record. Honestly, I thought I'd have a lot more."

That's not bragging. Puzey, a junior, drove in 39 her first year and knocked in 52 with 13 homers a year ago. This year, she has driven home 17 runs. She has been hitting No. 2 in the order, which isn't a spot one normally gets a lot of RBI opportunities though she helped spark Nevada's big come-from-behind rally Saturday with a sacrifice fly .

Being a good run producer means you have to have confidence and reat well under pressure. In fact, a good run producer needs nerves of steel. Puzey was like that when she was at Douglas High, and she has continued that mindset at Nevada.

"She's very competitive at that plate," Nevada coach Michelle Gardner said. "She has always been that way. I don't know that her numbers are as good as in the past.

"Sometimes hitters go through lulls. She really competes up there at the plate. She is getting stronger every weekend. She is more confident."

Puzey, who raised her average 18 points over the weekend to .252, said she gets the competitive spirit from her parents, Jim and Kim. Her father played several years in the St. Louis Cardinals organization and he was a standout at Nevada in his college days.

"Coming up in clutch situations and not letting the pressure get to you is key," Puzey said. "My role is to hit people in.

"My whole family is competitive. We all compete with each other. If I'm playing Wii with my younger brother I want to win. My sister (Samantha) is a great softball player, and she'll come home and tell me how many hits she got that day."

Family is one of the reasons that Puzey opted to stay home and play at Nevada. UOP and Stanford were among the West Coast teams interested in her services.

"A big part (staying home) was being around my family; my brother and sister," Puzey said. "It was huge. I couldn't be happier.

"I had always envisioned living away from home; living in a new place."

The marriage has been a good one. Puzey and the Pack reached the NCAA Tournament her freshman year, and then lost in the conference finals last season.

This year the Pack has beaten several ranked teams, and is leading the WAC with two weeks left in the regular season. Barring a major meltdown, a NCAA berth is looming large.

"We've finally started to come into our own (as a program)," Puzey said. "We're finally starting to get some recognition. We have a belief system here.

"When we beat somebody not up to par with us 5-2, we wonder why we didn't beat them 11-2. We're not jumping around acting surprised when we beat somebody (good)."

And no doubt Puzey wants to start contributing more offensively. After a 13-homer season last year, she was expecting more.

"I definitely think I've been pressing (much of the year)," Puzey said. "I wrote down goals for myself. Obviously I set goals higher than what I accomplished last year. I was expecting to do better in every offensive category. When that didn't happen right away I started to press instead of just letting myself play.

"My pitch selection was too precise. I'm not a technical hitter. I rely on my athleticism and let that take over. I was behind in the count all the time. "

Perhaps the most noticeable thing in Puzey's game is her defense. She made eight errors as a freshman, and thus far has only four in 60 chances.

"She hadn't been in the outfield to speak of (before here)," Gardner said. "Every year she gets better. She's pretty solid."

"It's mostly mental," Puzey said. "I'm more confident. I was trying to do too much before."


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