After suffering its first Pac-12 loss of the season at Levine-Fricke Field Saturday, the Cal softball team was upset. The offense had only managed five hits over the first two games of a crucial conference series against Arizona, and another subpar offensive showing would not be tolerated for a Bears squad with sights set on a national championship.
Fortunately for Cal, Valerie Arioto was not about to let that happen.
Behind two monster home runs by Arioto and another dominant performance by Jolene Henderson, Cal defeated the Wildcats 6-0 on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
“We had a lot of timely hits and put the pressure on the Arizona defense today,” said coach Diane Ninemire. “Everything worked out today.”
The Cal offense, a strong unit which has sputtered lately, scored runs early in the contest to stake a claim to the lead.
Those early runs were all the Bears (38-2, 11-1 in the Pac-12) would need. Henderson, Cal’s fireballing ace, shut down an Arizona offense not lacking in potency. After Arioto and Henderson struggled to contain the Wildcats (29-12, 8-7 ) on Saturday, the seemingly invincible Bears pitching staff suddenly appeared mortal.
Henderson quelled any suspicions that her previous performance was a sign of decline, thoroughly dominating the Arizona offense all afternoon and scattering just three hits. Henderson used a steady diet of hard-sinking fastballs and off-speed offerings to pound the bottom of the strike zone, forcing most of the Wildcat hitters to make weak contact. Arizona grounded out 12 times, struggling to hit the ball in the air all day.
“She really came out today with a great effort,” Ninemire said. “When she pitches up to her abilities, she’s pretty much unstoppable.”
Henderson also added five strikeouts and issued one walk, bringing her record to 22-1 on the year.
After trading scoreless zeroes in the first, the Bears’ offense came alive in the bottom of the second. Breana Kostreba reached base with one out on a hit-by-pitch, bringing the count full before getting plunked. Shortstop Cheyenne Cordes followed with a single, putting two runners on for freshman Danielle Henderson. Danielle, owning the third-best slugging percentage among Cal starters, ripped a gapper to right-center to plate Kostreba and send Cordes to third. Victoria Jones followed a perfectly executed suicide squeeze, scoring Cordes and bringing the Bears’ advantage to 2-0.
Arioto’s two home runs were solo shots in consecutive at-bats in the third and fifth innings.
Henderson found herself in trouble just once in the contest. After retiring the first two hitters easily in the top of the fourth, Henderson allowed a single through the hole on the right side. A Cordes error put runners on first and second. After working a 3-0 count, her sister came to the mound and briefly chatted with her. Jolene buckled down and forced a groundout on the next pitch, leaving the inning unscathed.
“I just told her, ‘You do this everyday and you’re the best at what you do, so go out there and execute,’” Danielle said.
The Bears still hold a precious one-game advantage in the conference standings over Arizona State, who will visit Levine-Fricke Field in early May for the final Pac-12 series of the season.