By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma State is setting up for a return to the NCAA softball playoffs with a strong showing in an important poll of top teams.

Going into Sonoma State’s final home series of the regular season, the Seawolves grabbed the No. 3 spot in the first NCAA Division II Softball West Regional Rankings. The top eight teams in the final poll qualify for the small college national tournament.

Also ranked No. 16 in the nation, Sonoma State faces a tough task to again host one of the two West Regional playoffs. Humboldt State leads the region coming off a 3-1 series win over the Seawolves. Grand Canyon is second in the West.

Despite the tough weekend against Humboldt State, the Seawolves have played well enough to solidify what would be the program’s fifth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.

Sonoma State has the talent to make a playoff run. With deep pitching and the best offense in one of the nation’s toughest conferences, the Seawolves have a balanced game.

Not only do the Seawolves lead the California Collegiate Athletic Association in hitting, they are batting .329, a remarkable 34 points ahead of the next best league offense. Sonoma State leads in nine conference batting and pitching rankings.

Leading the offense is Ali Palermo, with a .412 batting average, 11 home runs and 44 runs batted in — all in the conference top five for the senior from Redwood City. Helping spark Sonoma State’s offense is Ancia Purdy.

The second year standout from Huntington Beach leads the CCAA with 35 stolen bases.

Longtime staff ace Samantha Lipperd is again one of the nation’s top pitchers. With a conference best 19 wins and 178 strikeouts — more than one an inning — Lipperd continues to be stingy in allowing runs.

The senior from Boulder Creek is mentoring a standout freshman in Amanda Llerena, from San Jose. Her 13 wins is fifth in the CCAA and Llerena’s 123 strikeouts rank third in the conference.

Looking to finish strong, Sonoma State completes its home schedule with a senior day doubleheader today against rival Chico State. Game time is noon for the first game. The Seawolves complete regular season play at Cal State Monterey Bay next weekend.