Stephanie Bean was desperate when she contacted UNLV softball coach Lonni Alameda last summer.
After three seasons at Portland State, the native of Redding, Calif., had decided to leave the team for personal reasons. Since senior recruits are rarely in heavy demand, she feared that her career had come to an end.
"I started sending letters to UNLV," Bean said. "We had played them a lot, and they had always stuck out in my mind. They were a feisty, well-coached group."
Alameda, who had room for another outfielder on her roster, considered Bean’s inquiries and weighed the potential costs and benefits of bringing a senior onto her team.
"We’re always willing to give a player a second chance," Alameda said. "We did some research on her and laid down some expectations. We’d seen some scrappiness and we knew what kind of player she was."
Alameda elected to bring Bean aboard, and the arrangement has been mutually beneficial. Bean, who has started nine of the Rebels’ 11 games in right field, has become the No. 5 batter in the lineup.
"She’s been nothing but great," Alameda said.
In fact, Bean is off to the best start of her college career. She’s batting .308 and already has come through in the clutch. Her homer in the bottom of the seventh inning gave the Rebels a 2-1 victory over then-No. 3 Arizona State on Feb. 10.
"In those situations, I’m just thinking base hit," said Bean, who hit .270 with four home runs and six doubles last year at Portland State. "I just went up there to get the job done the best I could. It wound up being a great way to start off my senior year, and it was a big win for the program."
The Rebels posted big wins over other strong programs to go 3-1-1 in their first weekend of action as they hosted the Spring Kickoff Classic at Eller Media Stadium. Their victories over the Sun Devils and 11th-ranked Washington propelled them to No. 23 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 rankings.
Bean said she’s not surprised to see UNLV gaining national attention.
"This is an amazing program," she said. "The coaches are great and they truly care about us. I had a chance to go to the (NCAA) Tournament (as a sophomore in 2006). From that experience, I think I can say we’re putting together some good chemistry."
Alameda said Bean’s postseason experience will be a valuable asset to her team.
And if all goes well for UNLV, Bean could make one more trip to the postseason before her career ends. That might require a Mountain West Conference championship, though.
"I find it very realistic," Bean said. "I think we’ve got a good shot at it, but we still have a lot of work to do."
The Rebels (9-1-1) won all five of their games over the weekend in the Desert Classic and then beat Seton Hall 11-1 Monday at Eller Media Stadium. They capped their tournament play Sunday with a walk-off, two-run homer by sophomore Jaci Hull for a 2-1 victory over Kansas, and then beat Seton Hall on Monday behind a 15-hit attack.
UNLV will get back to work Thursday when it travels to California to battle top-tier competition in the four-day Palm Springs Desert Classic. The tourney will feature games against 14th-ranked Stanford and Georgia, which is tied with UNLV at No. 23.