It all comes down to this, folks.
The final regular season battle for college softball supremacy will take place at Levine-Fricke Field this Thursday, as the No. 1 Cal softball team (48-3, 19-2 in the Pac-12) hosts No. 2 Arizona State in a matchup between the two best teams in college softball. The contest could double as a possible national championship preview.
Increasing the stakes of the clash of the two colossal powers, the Pac-12 title belongs to whichever team wins the series.
So, Jace Williams, how important is it that the squad finish its campaign at the pinnacle of its peers, ranked No. 1 in the country?
“It isn’t really a factor,” said Cal’s starting second baseman. “We’re just trying to finish strong and play our best game everyday. It doesn’t really matter to us.”
Even given the Bears’ absolute dominance, the Sun Devils will be no easy task. Arizona State’s .346 team batting average ranks fourth in the country. Senior shortstop Katelyn Boyd has put up Arioto-like numbers, rocking a .458 batting average with 19 home runs. Star hurler Hillary Bach has yet to lose this year, maintaining a 19-0 record in 23 appearances.
The Sun Devils also come in scorching hot, winning their past nine games. One of those wins was an 18-1 slaughter of a Washington team that provided the Cal offense with one of its toughest challenges this year.
From beginning to end, the Bears have essentially been flawless. Cal has marched through their Pac-12 season with only two losses, negating the idea that its 23-0 start was the product of a cushy non-conference schedule.
Eighteen of those 21 games have been against ranked opponents, making an almost-spotless conference record even more impressive.
Redshirt senior Valerie Arioto has led the way on the offensive end for the Bears. Her .626 on-base percentage, 1.009 slugging percentage and 21 home runs rank her second, third, and fourth in the country, respectively. Such a comprehensively dominant offensive season will undoubtedly cement Arioto’s legacy as one of the greatest to ever lace up the cleats for the Bears.
But it has hardly been a one-woman show. Leadoff hitter Jamia Reid sports a .383 batting average with 44 stolen bases, setting the table for Cal almost every time she comes to the plate. Breana Kostreba and Danielle Henderson have added some pop to the latter half of the lineup, as the pair has combined for 26 home runs.
Most importantly, not one Bears starter is hitting below .284. The balanced attack from top to bottom has been lethal for opposing pitchers, where every at-bat is a struggle.
Cal also sports the best run prevention unit in the country. Leading the pitching staff is National Player of the Year candidate Jolene Henderson. Henderson, a junior, has compiled a 29-1 record with a 1.10 ERA, good for seventh best in the country. Her 238 strikeouts also rank among the nation’s best. On days between Henderson starts, Arioto has been an absolute force as the second starter, racking up a 19-2 record with a 1.29 ERA. Behind the two-headed pitching monster, the Cal defense has the second-best fielding percentage in the country.
With the Pac-12 title on the line, Cal is unlikely to let up on the ferocious pace they are currently setting.
“It would be nice to clinch the Pac-12 title,” Williams said. “But our number one priority is winning the national championship.”
If the Bears can take care of Arizona State this weekend, it will be difficult to foresee any other outcome.
Comments should remain on topic, concerning the article or blog post to which they are connected. Brevity is encouraged. Posting under a pseudonym is discouraged, but permitted. The Daily Cal encourages readers to voice their opinions respectfully in regard to the readers, writers and contributors of The Daily Californian. Comments are not pre-moderated, but may be removed if deemed to be in violation of this policy. Click here to read the full comment policy.