MAY WE EXPRESS our shellshocked professional admiration for Sarah McClendon, a correspondent for assorted newspapers in Texas and elsewhere, who bearded the president at his news conference the other evening on the subject of legal equity for women? These events are usually pretty tame and stylized affairs, where journalists ask their honed and deferential questions and rarely penetrate past the president's briefings and charm. Miss McClendon, however, has an approach all her own.

We confess that over the years we have not always liked and have sometimes very much disliked certain of Miss McClendon's interventions.

However, she has acquired--fairly--a reputation of one part doggedness, a second part name-dropping loyalty to the papers she writes for, and a third part--well, let us simply point out that her appearances at press conferences are anticipated and well staged and that when she comes wheeling in like a fighter pilot with the enemy in his cross hairs, the audience of her fellow journalists rolls its collective eyes but laps up every word.

On Wednesday, Miss McClendon conducted a virtuoso chase of President Reagan in the matter of a Justice Department report on federal discrimination against women. Not once, not twice, not three times, but 11 times--surely a record--she zeroed in as he twisted and turned and made faint excuses and even fainter jokes to avoid her fire. She knew better than he what had reached his desk and what he had talked about in a Cabinet meeting. Bringing to bear her purist's sense of a public official's duty --he (or she) is responsible, must be responsible, or else!--she extracted from Mr. Reagan a commitment to look into the report in question. Apparently he did--the report was released yesterday.

The day after the press conference, Miss McClendon was splendidly unapologetic about the furor her rat-a-tat-tat pursuit of the president had raised. Had she been disrespectful? CBS inquired. "Oh, no," she replied, "I'm asking a question." Does she ever fear that the substance gets lost in her "some would say hectoring style"? Said Sarah McClendon: "Oh, nuts."