Friday, February 10, 2006

Stanley seeks hot start as senior


Go figure Heather Stanley. Nobody else can. Not even Stanley.

"I start the season 0-for-20," said Stanley, a Kansas University softball player, "and I make first-team All-Big 12. Pretty crazy, huh?"

Stanley, a senior outfielder, is a notoriously slow starter, which on the surface means she may disappoint friends and family when the Jayhawks open the season this weekend.

Kansas will play five games in Houston - not far from Baytown, where Stanley went to high school.

Then again, perhaps Stanley actually will shatter the status quo and blast out of the chute. If she does, it won't be because she'll have all those boosters in the stands.

"That's pressure in itself, but not really," the 5-foot-6 Stanley said. "I'm more confident, though, because we've been on the field every day."

For the first time since Stanley has been on Mount Oread, a mild January allowed the softball team to practice outside at Arrocha Ballpark, not inside Anschutz Sports Pavilion.

"It's way different," Stanley said. "You can't see the ball in (Anschutz). It's dark and you're in a (batting) cage all the time and you feel closed in."

KU coach Tracy Bunge is banking on Stanley shaking off her usual molasses starts.

"I've told her she's our right fielder," Bunge said. "I've told her she'll be out there every day, and that we need her to be a good leadoff hitter."

Job security, Stanley said, was wonderful.

"That takes a little pressure off," she said. "Now I can relax. I'm not stressing myself out."

While competing for a starting outfield job in February and March of last year, Stanley's batting average - thanks in large part to that dreadful 0-for-20 beginning - dipped to .234.

She began the Big 12 Conference portion of the schedule at Texas on the bench. Then, with the Jayhawks' baffled by the slants of UT super pitcher Cat Osterman, Bunge sent Stanley in to pinch-hit in the seventh inning.

Stanley promptly drilled an Osterman offering over the fence, breaking up the Longhorn left-hander's no-hitter. Hardly a slugger - she had six HRs all of last season - Stanley had stepped to the plate with a plan.

"I watched the College World Series," she explained, "and one of the announcers said you needed to stand up in the box to hit Cat's rise ball before it rose. That's what I did. I hacked at it before it got up."

Stanley started every game during the remainder of the Big 12 season. The home run off Osterman triggered a .362 average in 17 league games and an unprecedented ascension to all-league status. She hadn't so much as earned honorable mention as a freshman and sophomore.

Now, like most seniors, Stanley wants to conclude her college career with a flourish.

"Every game has to mean something this year," she said. "I want to leave everything on the field."


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