Britt Vonk sent the 14th pitch of the game skittering to shortstop for an infield single, connecting on a full count to put Cal softball team on base in a Women’s College World Series for the first time since 2005. It turned out to be the No. 7-seeded Bears’ lone hit in a 1-0 loss to Alabama.
They managed to get on base again at Oklahoma City’s ASA Hall of Fame Stadium — once, when third baseman Jace Williams drew a walk on four pitches in the fourth inning.
Matched up against arguably the country’s best in Cal ace Jolene Henderson, it was the Crimson Tide’s Kelsi Dunne who shined in the pitcher’s duel. The senior from Port Orange, Fla. — who matches Henderson’s Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year award with the same honor from the SEC — struck out a WCWS career-high 11 batters, nine of whom went down swinging.
After facing the minimum three batters in the top of the first, Dunne retired the side four times in her six-inning outing.
“She was moving the ball around nicely against us and keeping us off-balance,” Cal coach Diane Ninemire said. “I think our hitters were not aggressive; they were getting behind in the count. She was going upstairs and we were swinging at pitches out of the zone.”
Henderson, who has been the big story through Cal’s (44-12) surprising surge to a second-place conference finish, was solid in her own right, fanning the side to open the game and finishing with nine strikeouts in six innings.
But No. 2-seed Alabama (52-9), which had fallen in their previous six WCWS openers, mustered just enough offense to eke ahead.
Crimson Tide right fielder Amanda Locke, who went 2-of-3 from the plate, started off the second inning with a single. The 5-foot-11 Locke was replaced with pinch runner Keima Davis. Davis proceeded to steal second and third as Henderson retired the next two batters, and scored the go-ahead run when freshman second baseman Kaila Hunt lined a single down the left field line.
“It was a good hit, a good pitch,” Henderson said. “Not really a hittable pitch but in hindsight I should have thrown something different. But things happen.”
The Elk Grove, Calif., product gave up seven hits and walked one. The Bears will play Oklahoma State Saturday at 9 a.m. PT. A second loss knocks them out of the tournament.
“Our approach is going to change a little bit because we are in the losers’ bracket,” Henderson said. “But I think it will only make us better because we’re going to be a stronger team.”