One Goliath slew another in yesterday’s semifinal of the Women’s College World Series.
No. 2 Alabama (58-7) toppled the No. 1 Cal softball team 5-2 Sunday afternoon at Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City in a game to decide who would proceed to the final against Oklahoma in the national championship series.
“We knew that we had a point to prove, and we — I would say that we kind of carried that a little bit too harsh on ourselves,” said freshman Danielle Henderson. “We kind of put more pressure on ourselves than we had to.”
For the Bears (58-7), the game was win-or-go home after dropping Friday’s game to Oklahoma in the double elimination tournament. A Cal win would have forced a go-ahead game to decide who would advance to the final.
Cal handled LSU in the first round, but was unable to produce against Oklahoma’s Keilani Ricketts. The ace was two strikeouts short of a WCWS record after striking out 16 Bears with her lethal pitches, relegating Cal to the losers’ bracket.
The Bears bounced back from Friday’s 3-0 loss to the No. 4 Sooners to eliminate conference foe Oregon the next day, 6-3, to set up a matchup in the national semifinal against the formidable Crimson Tide.
The titanic matchup between the nation’s two top-ranked teams featured a total of four home runs and 14 strikeouts as the two extremely talented squads battled on all fronts.
Though Cal’s Jolene Henderson struck out more batters than Alabama’s Jackie Trania, she also allowed more runs. Traina tossed a complete game six-hitter, limiting the damage against a potent Cal offense.
“I give her a lot of credit,” said senior Jamia Reid. “She’s definitely a great pitcher.”
Trania herself notched the first run for the Tide in the bottom of the second with a solo home run. That was soon supplemented with an RBI from Kaila Hunt to bring the score to 2-0.
The Bears quickly answered with a pair of runs in the top of the fourth. Freshman third baseman Danielle Henderson recorded her 16th homer of the season to tie the game at 2-2.
However, the tie did not last long. In the bottom of the inning, Alabama’s Kendall Dawson singled to score Jazlyn Lunceford to end the fourth at 3-2.
Cal was unable to answer in the top of the fifth, and fell even further behind when Hunt homered in the bottom of the inning. The Bears rallied in the sixth, loading the bases with no outs. They were unable to capitalize on the golden opportunity, and went into the bottom of the sixth two runs behind.
Lunceford tacked on another run for Alabama with a home run in bottom of the sixth, marking the first time all season that Cal’s Jolene Henderson allowed three runs in a single game. Henderson entered the College World Series with the nation’s fifth best ERA.
After breezing through regional and super regional play at Levine Fricke Field in Berkeley, the squad punched a ticket to Oklahoma City to compete with seven other survivors for the chance to win the Women’s College World Series.
The loss ended the Bears’ most promising season in recent history. Though dominant last year en route to a 45-13 record, the return of senior superstar Valerie Arioto made national championship hopes significantly more realistic. But this year, Arioto’s return wasn’t enough.
“My team doesn’t give up,” said Jolene Henderson. “I couldn’t be any more proud of the season ending. I never played with a better team.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Oklahoma’s Keilani Ricketts “was two runs shy of a WCWS record after striking out 16 Bears.” In fact, Ricketts was two strikeouts short of a WCWS record.