Henderson blanks Wildcats in Super Regional opener

Echavarria's solo shot provides lone run for Bears

Already a proven road team, the Cal softball team may have found a home away from home in the Bluegrass state.

The No. 5 Bears (43-10) took a 1-0 decision over Kentucky at the UK Softball Complex in Lexington, Ky., in the first game of the best of three  series. Cal picked up its first win in the Super Regionals round since 2006, and the team’s first ever over an SEC team.

The Bears last four games have all been played in the state of Kentucky, and have all resulted in wins. Cal has now prevailed in 14 of its last 15 contests.

Sophomore Jolene Henderson was again brilliant in the circle for the Bears, throwing a complete game shutout while striking out four batters and only allowing one hit. Henderson has now pitched 21 straight innings of scoreless softball, and has tallied 17 shutouts on the year — the second highest mark in the country.

“Jolene just threw a great game today, and she kept their hot bats with their great stats off,” coach Diane Ninemire said.

The pitching from Cal’s right-handed ace completely neutralized a normally potent Kentucky offense. The Wildcats set a school record in 2011 by hitting 65 home runs, and hadn’t been shut out since March 23.

“It just goes to show that you can’t just go on numbers,” Ninemire said. “We have had stats that don’t match up to anybody we play this year.”

Kentucky’s Chanda Bell was almost equally effective in the circle against the Bears’ bats, striking out eight through six innings of work, but did allow six hits.

One hit in particular proved to be the difference in the game. After striking out Lindsey Ziegenhirt to open the fourth inning, Bell hung a pitch up in the strike zone, and Frani Echavarria made her pay for it. The junior center fielder drove the ball to deep center for a solo home run, scoring what would end up being the winning run for the Bears.

Apart from Echavarria, Cal’s bats struggled mightily on Saturday. Bell dominated the Bears’ lineup, which looked overly eager at the plate — often swinging at pitches well out of the strike zone. Five players went without a hit on the afternoon.

“We need to be more disciplined at the plate,” Ninemire said. “We were just thinking too much. We’ve got to stay on the pitches that are strikes.”

Cal is now one win away from advancing to its first Women’s College World Series since 2004. The Bears will have two shots on Sunday, the first coming at 10 a.m. PT. Game three, if necessary, will be played at 12:30 p.m.

“They gave us a great game, and I expect a better one tomorrow,” Ninemire said.

Connor Byrne covers softball.