The Cal softball team might as well book its tickets for Oklahoma City right now.
If the Bears take down every other opponent like they did Iona Friday night, there’s no way they won’t advance to the Women’s College World Series for the second straight year.
Jolene Henderson tossed five shutout innings, Breana Kostreba hit a two-run homer in the first inning, and Cal began its postseason under the lights at Levine-Fricke Field with a resounding 8-0 win over Iona.
The Gaels (35-25) traveled over 2,500 miles from New Rochelle, N.Y. to take on the No. 1 Bears (51-4), but the game’s result was never in doubt. Britt Vonk scored Cal’s first run in the bottom of the first when a ball got away from Iona catcher Katie Jansson, and Kostreba followed with her 13th home run of the year to give Cal an early 3-0 lead.
“It’s really tough for a team like us to lose when we get a lead like that in the first inning,” said Cal coach Diane Ninemire. “It was a great moment for us to get that edge right away so that we could take control of the game.”
Henderson (31-2) cruised against an overmatched Iona lineup. The junior allowed just two baserunners in five innings of work — an Allyssa James infield single in the second inning and another James single to left in the fifth.
No other Gael reached base against the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year, who also recorded seven strikeouts.
“We approached it like any postseason game,” Henderson said. “We just want to win and want to take charge of the game so that was the mentality that I went out there with.”
Iona starter Sarah Jackson (17-13) settled down after a rough first inning, retiring nine of ten batters in the second, third and fourth innings.
But the wheels came off for Jackson and the Gaels in the fifth inning.
Cal senior Frani Echevarria singled off Jackson to start the frame and came around to score when Jamia Reid reached on an overthrow that allowed her to advance to third. After a Vonk RBI single and a Valerie Arioto walk, Jackson was replaced by redshirt senior Alyssa Maiese, who couldn’t corral the damage. Before a third out could be recorded, Cal had sent ten batters to the plate and added five more runs, ending the game mercifully with a chance to score even more.
The Bears scored their eight runs on just six hits, taking advantage of Iona’s mistakes: five walks, a hit batter, and an error.
The Bears will take on Arkansas tomorrow at 3 p.m. at Levine-Fricke Field. The Razorbacks took down Boston University earlier today in a 3-2 decision. Iona and BU will play in an elimination game tomorrow at 5 p.m.