Bears capture NCAA opener against Gamecocks

Six errors proved to be to be costly mistakes in Jacksonville State’s contest against the No. 7-seeded Cal softball team.

The fifth-ranked Bears turned the miscues into an early 6-0 lead and rode the momentum all the way to a 6-3 victory in Friday’s Louisville Regional opener in Louisville, Ky.

The Gamecocks (39-20) were at an early disadvantage when their starting pitcher, All-Ohio Valley Conference selection and Freshman of the Year Tiffany Harbin, was sidelined right before the beginning of the game due to a sore wrist on her pitching arm.

In her place, junior Kristin Graham took the circle first at Ulmer Stadium and gave up six runs on 11 hits in just over four innings of work. Scoring first has proved to be one of the keys to success for Cal (40-10) this season, and true to form, the squad got after it early with a run in both the second and third innings.

The early tallies drove Cal into an action-filled fifth inning, where three more runs by the Bears forced JSU’s head coach to pull Graham in favor of sophomore Hilary Phillips. Phillips struggled to find her rhythm, walking Elia Reid and throwing an illegal pitch that brought second baseman Victoria Jones home to notch the Bears’ fourth run of the inning.

Despite the 6-0 lead Cal held until the seventh inning, Bears third baseman Jace Williams said her team didn’t bring its best effort on Friday.

“I can’t say our offense wasn’t there but we weren’t making timely hits,” Williams said. “We left runners on base and saving Jolene (Henderson’s) arm with five innings is crucial in the postseason. We weren’t our normal selves.”

In total, Cal left nine runners stranded on base and was charged with a pair of errors.In the circle, however, sophomore pitcher Jolene Henderson worked the Gamecocks for six scoreless frames before the they managed to chip away at the ace in the seventh inning.

“I call them ‘mishits,’ but some of their hits just blooped over our heads with some crazy spins,” Williams said of JSU’s three-run final inning. “I wouldn’t say they were lucky, but they were not connected. We did a good job of slowing the game down and getting the final out.”

Added Henderson: “We didn’t come with our best stuff, but to not bring our best stuff and pull out a win is something we can do sometimes. It isn’t going to work for much longer though.”

Cal continues its postseason run in the four-team, double-elimination regional bracket. The team plays host Louisville on Saturday at 11:00 a.m. (PT).