Stanford's X-factor -- freshman Toni Kokenis

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Stanford's X-factor -- freshman Toni Kokenis

March 25, 2011

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SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) -- Toni Kokenis never generated much hype as Stanford's third-best incoming freshman last fall.

Chiney Ogwumike had the National Player of the Year pedigree and proven lineage as younger sister to Cardinal star Nnemkadi Ogwumike. Highly regarded Sara James had the All-American status and was considered the program's next point guard to succeed senior Pac-10 Player of the Year Jeanette Pohlen.

Lately, though, it has been Kokenis that coach Tara VanDerveer immediately turns to off the bench when Stanford needs a boost.

She has given the Cardinal key minutes in the biggest of games -- and that's been the case even after she sat out two weeks with a concussion.

Next up for top-seeded Stanford (31-2) in its quest for a fourth straight Final Four is a date with No. 5 North Carolina in the Spokane Regional semifinals Saturday night.

VanDerveer calls Kokenis her "sixth starter." The reliable Kokenis often plays more minutes than junior starter Lindy La Rocque.

In the Cardinal's 86-59 first-round NCAA tournament victory over UC Davis last Saturday, Kokenis knocked down three of her team's season-best 13 3-pointers on the way to 11 points in 25 minutes. She also dished out three assists.

Before that, she scored a game-high and career-best 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting as Stanford rallied in the second half to beat UCLA 64-55 in the Pac-10 tournament title game March 12.

"I just wanted to be able to come in and help contribute to the team to help us be as successful as we could be," Kokenis said of her expectations as a freshman. "I would say definitely (I have benefited from) more practice and getting more reps and playing against pressure and taking advantage of the reps you get when you are out on the court."

Her comeback has been impressive to say the least.

Kokenis was sidelined after getting fouled in the head in the closing minutes of a 64-38 win over UCLA on Jan. 20. She returned at Arizona State on Feb. 3. Then, facing the Bruins again exactly a month after her injury in Los Angeles, Kokenis scored 13 points and made three steals in 37 minutes -- her most playing time yet.

"Toni has played extremely well for us. Once she came back from when she was hit, she has really finished strong," VanDerveer said. "When you look at a lot of the top teams, it's really amazing the number of freshmen who are huge contributors. So many young players are coming into situations and playing so well."

Kokenis checked in at the 16:47 mark of the first half in a 75-49 second-round NCAA win against St. John's on Monday night, only to leave late in the half with a sprained left ankle. X-rays were negative and VanDerveer hopes to have Kokenis at full strength for Saturday's game in Spokane.

She has shown already that she is resilient and a student of the game. After the head injury, Kokenis spent more time watching video to ensure she didn't fall behind.

"Being out with my concussion was a bit of a bummer," she said. "And then coming back, I have great teammates and they really helped me feel more comfortable -- so it's just feeling more comfortable in general with our offense and what I can do to contribute to our team and what I can bring off the bench."

There's a good chance Kokenis will be in the starting lineup next season after Stanford loses Pohlen and do-everything senior Kayla Pedersen.

The departing players feel as if the program is in good hands with returners such as Kokenis to complement star sisters Nnemkadi and Chiney Ogwumike inside.

"She definitely has stepped up," Pedersen said of Kokenis. "I don't think she lets any of that affect her, like any of the hype or anything. Toni just comes in and she is fearless. She doesn't really care about anything besides getting the job done and how she can help us. If that means stepping up big for us in a game, like she did at UCLA, then that is what it is. Or if it means making the pass to the post, that is what she does. I just think that selfless mentality is really making her stand out right now."

Altidore, Dempsey lead US past Costa Rica, into Gold Cup final at Levi's

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AP

Altidore, Dempsey lead US past Costa Rica, into Gold Cup final at Levi's

BOX SCORE

ARLINGTON, Texas — Clint Dempsey fed Jozy Altidore for the go-ahead goal, then scored on a free kick to match Landon Donovan’s American record with his 57th international goal and lead the United States over Costa Rica 2-0 Saturday night and into the CONCACAF Gold Cup championship game.

Playing in his home state of Texas, the 34-year-old Dempsey entered in the 66th minute and made a perfectly timed through pass six minutes later that allowed Altidore to break in alone and beat Patrick Pemberton with a left-footed shot from 10 yards.

Dempsey doubled the lead in the 82nd minute with a 27-yard shot that went around a four-man defensive wall and got past Pemberton on two bounces.

“I saw the keeper cheating a little bit, and it went in,” Dempsey said.

Dempsey has 136 international appearances, trailing only Cobi Jones (164) and Donovan (157) among American players. The assist was his 20th for the national team.

“Coming back from two heart procedures, being able to still play at this level,” Dempsey said in his Texas twang, “living a dream. So I’m happy.”

Trying for their sixth Gold Cup title and first since 2013, the Americans play Mexico or Jamaica in the final on Wednesday at Santa Clara, California.

The U.S. improved to 8-0-5 since Bruce Arena replaced Jurgen Klinsmann in November and returned for a second stint as national team coach. Arena can become the first coach to win three Gold Cup titles following championships in 2002 and 2005.

Tim Howard got his second straight shutout, making key saves on Marco Urena in the 37th and 71st minutes.

After the second save, Dempsey took a pass from Darlington Nagbe in the center circle, made a cut, and took three touches as he sprinted toward goal. Altidore one-timed a shot for his first national team goal since September and ripped off his No. 27 jersey in a wild celebration, earning a yellow card.

Dempsey’s goal sealed the win, putting the U.S. back in the championship after a shocking semifinal loss to Jamaica two years ago. He was playing for the first time in AT&T Stadium, the $1.2 billion home stadium of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys that is about 180 miles from his hometown of Nacogdoches.

“Congratulations, Clint,” Donovan said while working on the Fox telecast of the game. “Feel free to stop now, we’ll share it together.”

After starting in Wednesday’s quarterfinal win over El Salvador, Dempsey moved to a reserve role against the Ticos. While the U.S. inserted five new starters in a roster rotation, Costa Rica went with the same 11 players who started in Wednesday’s win against Panama.

Costa Rica routed the U.S. 4-0 at home in a World Cup qualifier in November, the final game before Klinsmann was fired and Arena was brought back. And up ahead is another matchup, a qualifier on Sept. 1 at Harrison, New Jersey.

Morris, one of the new starters, hit a post just 11 seconds in.

Just before kickoff, El Salvador defender Henry Romero was suspended for his nation’s next six competitive matches and midfielder Darwin Ceren for the next three, those penalties coming three days after Romero bit Altidore and Ceren bit Omar Gonzalez during the quarterfinal. The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football said the discipline was issued by the Gold Cup disciplinary committee for “anti-sporting behavior.”

A's blow five-run lead, watch Mets walk off with victory

A's blow five-run lead, watch Mets walk off with victory

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- Wilmer Flores hit a solo home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, and the New York Mets rallied from an early five-run deficit to beat the Oakland Athletics 6-5 Saturday night for their fourth consecutive victory.

Pinch-hitter Lucas Duda delivered a tying single with two outs in the eighth off left-hander Daniel CoulombeJay Bruce hit a two-run homer in the sixth to begin New York's comeback, and Jose Reyes tripled twice.

Flores connected on a 96 mph fastball from Simon Castro (0-1), sending a line drive to left field for the second game-ending homer of his career. That sent a frenzied crowd of 39,629 home happy - hours after fans lined up early in the heat outside Citi Field to get their Noah Syndergaard as Thor bobbleheads.

Matt Joyce hit a leadoff home run and Matt Chapman added a prodigious shot for Oakland, which scored four in the first off struggling Mets starter Zack Wheeler.

Sean Manaea took a shutout into the sixth but then wilted after throwing a career-high 115 pitches Sunday in his previous start, a win against Cleveland.

Hansel Robles (6-1) tossed a hitless inning to win for the second straight day.

MAN ON THE MOVE:
With Mets second baseman Neil Walker nearing a return from the disabled list, perhaps Monday in San Diego, Asdrubal Cabrera made his first major league start at third and played flawless defense after working out at the position once. Cabrera's only previous appearance at the hot corner came during his rookie season in 2007 with Cleveland. "He's a middle infielder who's going to play third base. Got great hands, great arm. He'll be fine," manager Terry Collins said. Cabrera initially balked at shifting from shortstop to second when he came off the DL about a month ago.

TRAINER'S ROOM:
Athletics: Ryon Healy had a pinch-hit single after getting hit near the left temple by a bad-hop grounder Friday night. Healy went through the concussion protocol and was cleared, manager Bob Melvin said. ... Melvin said he would have news after the game regarding RHP Jharel Cotton, on the DL since July 4 with a blister on his right thumb. Cotton threw a bullpen Friday. Oakland needs a starter for Monday night at Toronto. ... INF-OF Chad Pinder (strained left hamstring) homered Friday on his rehab assignment with Triple-A Nashville and could come off the DL when Oakland begins a homestand next weekend. "That's kind of the target area," Melvin said.

Mets: Walker (left hamstring) went 1 for 3 with Triple-A Las Vegas at Memphis in the first game of rehab assignment. The switch-hitter has been on the DL since June 15. ... LHP Josh Smoker threw a scoreless sixth in his first outing since coming off the disabled list Thursday. Smoker had been sidelined since June 14 with a strained left shoulder.

UP NEXT:
Oakland rookie right-hander Daniel Gossett (1-5, 5.79 ERA) makes his eighth career start in Sunday's series finale against RHP Rafael Montero (1-6, 5.40). Gossett has given up 10 homers in 37 1/3 innings after yielding only four in 60 2/3 innings at Triple-A.