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Her Will to Win Proves Formidable

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Free-spirited and tattooed, direct and driven, Nina Lindenberg celebrated winning the Women’s College World Series by getting her eyebrow pierced the next day.

She has since removed her studded ring so she can present a more proper image to the world. After all, that’s her stage as the 1998 Softball World Championships begin Monday in Japan.

“I’m not the typical American kid out there,” Lindenberg said by phone this week. “I’m an individual, but I’m also a team player, and I get the job done.”

Lindenberg, a former Canyon High player, homered in the bottom of the sixth inning for Fresno State, providing the game’s only run as the Bulldogs won the NCAA title last May by defeating the defending champion, Arizona.

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She also got the game-winning hit to lead the South to a gold medal last month in the USA Softball Women’s National Team Festival in Ft. Worth, Texas, capping a weeklong performance that earned her a spot on the U.S. national team for a second time.

In softball-rich Orange County, Lindenberg is its only representative on Team USA.

She describes herself as “fun but intimidating,” while others talk of her extraordinary will.

“She’s very driven to get what she wants in life,” said Fresno State teammate Alicia Dowland, a former Kennedy standout who plays shortstop for the Bulldogs. “She knows exactly what she wants and doesn’t care what she has to do to accomplish it.”

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Lindenberg’s pursuit of her Olympic dream has her in Fujinomiya City, Japan, for the World Championships. The 17-team event continues through July 30. Five of the eight teams that will make up the Olympic field in Sydney, Australia, in 2000 will be determined by the outcome.

The United States will play seven round-robin games before winners advance to the four-team playoffs. Already in Japan, Lindenberg has played third base, second base and designated hitter in games leading up to the World Championships.

Her high school coach, Lance Eddy, isn’t surprised by her success.

“She went eight for eight [in a doubleheader] her first day on the varsity,” Eddy recalled. “She was a freshman on an all-senior team, and they gave her a hard time, and she gave it right back. Nina knew what she could do and was going to do it.

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“She could have played [varsity] baseball her last two years.”

Lindenberg, 21, was chosen to fill one of four spots from among 60 participants in the softball festival. One of those who made it was her teammate in Fresno, pitcher Amanda Scott.

Together, they helped Fresno State become the first school in 11 years--other than Arizona or UCLA--to win a national title. Lindenberg, a second baseman who batted third, showed just how clutch she was after an apparent rally was foiled.

In the NCAA title game, Lindenberg was batting in the fifth inning with two outs and runners at first and third when Laura Berg was picked off third base by Leah Braatz, the Arizona catcher from Costa Mesa, ending the inning.

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So Lindenberg led off the sixth inning with a home run, her third hit of the game. It was the only run Arizona (67-4) allowed in four World Series games and ended its streak of 52 scoreless innings.

She called it the defining moment of her career.

“It was the end of my college career and the game I’ll always remember,” Lindenberg said. “Not everyone gets to be on the field in a situation like that, and I was able to get a clutch hit.

"[Winning] was something nobody believed in, besides us.

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“It shows who I am, what I’m about, what I do when it comes down to it--the focus, not giving up, being able to have fun and do what me and the rest of my team do best.”

The homer didn’t surprise Dowland.

“It didn’t matter who was pitching in the championship game, it was going to be a home run,” Dowland said. “Numerous times this season, you could look her in the eye and see that she was going to hit it out. She just has that ability.”

Even though Dowland and Lindenberg bumped heads occasionally, Dowland said the older player helped her immensely.

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“There were points in the season when everything in the infield got out of control,” Dowland said. “A couple of times, she pulled me aside and said, ‘Relax, this is the same game you’ve been playing.’ It made me think that someone knew what I was going through as a freshman starter.”

Lindenberg had worn those shoes herself. She left Long Beach State after her freshman season despite batting a team-high .324 and being named second-team All-Big West Conference.

“I was really on my own at Long Beach and wasn’t gaining any more knowledge than I had, and I wanted to pursue softball and get to this level, so I left,” Lindenberg said.

Lindenberg batted .449 this season for the Bulldogs (52-11). She hit safely in 54 games (with 26 multiple-hit games), including a 17-game hitting streak, and had 13 homers, a .773 slugging average and 77 runs batted in. She ranks seventh on the NCAA career list for RBIs with 218.

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Lindenberg lived this summer in Oklahoma and will continue to do so, coaching a high school team in Edmond.

“The best thing for me right now is to not be back in Fresno, since my career there is over,” she said. “To drive by practice and not have an opportunity to be part of it would be too much.”

Lindenberg, who wears a Fresno State Bulldog among her three tattoos, said she will return in January to complete the last few units for a degree in therapeutic recreation, and will continue training in hopes of being named to the Olympic team in September, 1999.

“My drive will be even stronger because I have to do it on my own [without benefit of a college program] if I want to make the team,” Lindenberg said. “I have to go and lift, run, hit and take ground balls on my own.”

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But that probably won’t be a problem if history means anything.

“She’s the most aggressive player I’ve ever seen,” Dowland said. “Once she has a goal in mind, there’s no stopping her. She will get it.

“That extends into her personality. That’s the only way she knows, and it works out for her, so she might as well stick with it.”


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