Since the first neon-yellow ball left pitcher Jolene Henderson’s palm at the Kajikawa Classic in February, the No. 1 Cal softball team has maintained a singular objective: reach the Women’s College World Series and win the national championship.
On Sunday afternoon at Levine-Fricke Field, the Bears completed part one of their ambitious goal, defeating Washington 2-0 to win the Super Regional and advance to Oklahoma City.
“This is the biggest win at Cal in (our program’s) history,” coach Diane Ninemire said. “It was a total team effort.”
Henderson was once again brilliant, picking up the slack for a Cal team that struggled to produce on the offensive end. The junior allowed just three hits to a balanced Washington offense, mixing her fastball and change-up effectively to render the Husky batters impotent. Henderson also struck out nine, leaving the Huskies (39-19) looking desperate as they tried — and ultimately failed —to keep up.
Freshman shortstop Cheyenne Cordes led the offense for the Bears (56-4), providing the only RBI’s of the game on a monster home run in the fifth inning. Cordes also exhibited stellar defense, ranging for ground balls in the hole and limiting the amount of Washington hits.
Although ultimately emerging victorious, the Bears’ circumspect start left Cal diehards squirming in their undersized seats. After Cal’s offense went down easily in the top of the first, Henderson ran into a jam. With one out and the bases loaded, Kimi Pohlman scorched a liner towards third, but right at third baseman Danielle Henderson. With two outs, Kylee Lahners hit a sinking line drive to left that appeared to be dropping for extra bases, but speedy left fielder Jamia Reid made a catch to preserve the scoreless inning.
“I told myself, ‘If anything comes out here, I’m going to catch it,’” Reid said. “It was not going to drop.”
Following the initial frame, the game settled into a pitchers’ duel. Husky hurler Bryana Walker looked relatively comfortable with her team’s fate resting on her right arm. Usually Washington’s second starter, Walker was forced into action after ace Kaitlin Inglesby threw 124 pitches on Friday. Walker did not allow a hit until the fifth inning, flummoxing the Bears with a well-located fastball and a good mixture of off-speed hurls.
Henderson, to her own credit, only allowed one hit through the first four frames. After the initial hiccup in the first, the junior All-American settled into a groove, striking out Husky after Husky with her trademark change-up.
The Bears finally broke it open in the top of the fifth. With two outs and Elia Reid pinch-running after a Breana Kostreba single, Cordes smacked a fastball that soared over the scoreboard in left-center field, putting Cal up 2-0.
Henderson would not relinquish the lead. She showed no signs of fatigue in shutting down the Huskies in the later innings, despite a 131-pitch outing just 17 hours before.
As the final hitter fell at the hands of Henderson, Cal briefly huddled together. But the cheering was limited.
“There’s definitely still more to be done,” Jamia Reid said. “Not too much celebration. We’re going to hold off until the final game.”