The Bears were looking a little vulnerable.
After an unexpected upset by lower-tier SEC competitor Arkansas on Saturday, the Cal softball team found itself in a bit of a hole. Banished to the losers bracket after the loss to the Razorbacks, the Bears were in need of three wins in two days to advance to the NCAA Super Regional.
The climb to the national championship suddenly looked a little steeper.
But the Bears are not ranked number one for nothing.
Cal took care of Boston University in an 8-0 shutdown on Saturday night. The team turned around to soundly defeat Arkansas 10-2 and 8-0 in a twin bill Sunday at Levine-Fricke Field to win the NCAA Regional.
“We knew we had our backs against the wall,” said Cal coach Diane Ninemire. “We knew we had to have great pitching. And Jolene (Henderson) executed.”
Frani Echavarria led the charge offensively for the Bears in the first game. The senior center fielder went 4-for-4 with six RBIs, including a grand slam in the top of the fifth that put the game completely out of reach for the Razorbacks.
“I got an inside pitch; inside’s not my favorite,” Echavarria said of the grand slam. “But when I hit it out, you should’ve seen my reaction. I probably cried.”
Henderson, although looking a little weary, was effective in the first game, pitching on less than 24 hours’ rest. Henderson struck out five and allowed two earned runs in five innings.
Arioto, the token superstar, was largely inconsequential. Although walking three times, Arioto popped out with the bases loaded inher only at-bat and managed to score just once.
In the second game, the Bears jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first after Jamia Reid, Arioto and Echavarria all reached base and scored.
In the bottom of the second, Cal put two runners on for Britt Vonk. Primarily a slap-hitter, Vonk smacked an offering into the right-field bleachers for her first home run of the season. The blast put the Bears up 6-0, establishing a lead they would not relinquish.
Henderson was the biggest story of the day. The ace threw over 180 pitches alone Sunday, an almost inhuman amount after tossing 18 2/3 innings over the past two days. In her 12 innings of work Sunday, Henderson allowed just two runs, fighting through the obvious fatigue to stifle the Razorbacks offense completely in the second game.
“This is what I live for,” Henderson said. “I’m a pitcher, I want to pitch.”
Offensively, Reid consistently got things started for Cal, compiling five hits and four runs over the two games. Reid also played an exceptional left field, running down a couple of balls that very few left fielders could have managed to reach.
Cal will face off against familiar foe Washington in the NCAA Super Regionals next week.