Cal women’s softball opens 2017 season at Puerto Rico tournament

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As the Alabama Crimson Tide secured the final out at the NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional Tournament last spring, ending the Cal softball team’s 2016 season, the Bears realized there was still work to do.

Cal once again clinched a spot in the postseason with an overall record of 33-24-1, the 27th time in the last 28 seasons under head coach Diane Ninemire, but it fell short in the pursuit of a national championship. Heading into a new season, the ultimate goal of winning a second Women’s College World Series remains.

The road to a title is a season-long process, one built by consistently executing on both sides of the ball for the entirety of a season. While the playoffs are a ways away for Cal softball, the team can begin to lay the foundation for college softball immortality with their first action of the spring season.

The Cal women’s softball team will open up 2017 this weekend in San Juan, Puerto Rico for a five-day tournament against Georgia, North Carolina and Illinois.

The Bears will play Georgia Tech and North Carolina the first two days of the tournament and play both opponents Feb. 11. Cal will finish up the tournament with a game against Illinois on Feb. 12.

This tournament will be the nation’s first look at the Bears since losing senior Nisa Ontiveros. In her final season at Cal, the Bear’s star pitcher was clearly among the Pac-12’s elite work horses. Over 167 innings pitched, Ontiveros posted an ERA of 2.05 while holding opposing hitters to a batting average of .207.

The Bears will unquestionably miss Ontiveros’ production on the mound. An elite starting pitcher not only neutralizes the opposing offense, but a;sp takes pressure off the offense. With Ontiveros on the mound, instead of having to out slug opposing teams, the Bears only needed to plate a couple runs to put themselves in a position to win.

In transitioning to a new era of starting pitching post-Ontiveros, Cal can look to its high-powered offensive weapons to lead the charge heading into the tournament.

Among those deadly offensive weapons is junior Jazmyn Jackson. For all her accolades, earning a nomination of All-Pac-12 First-Team and being selected to the 2017 USA Softball Women’s National team just to name a few, her most important title is that of the engine of Cal’s offensive machine.

Jackson needs no lesson in the art of kickstarting an offense. In her sophomore season, Jackson led the Pac-12 with 82 hits while playing in every game for the Bears. Once on the basepaths, the junior was a threat to swipe a bag, totaling 13 stolen bases as well.

Opposing pitchers should continue to be on the lookout for sophomore Lindsay Rood as well. In her freshman campaign, Rood bested Jackson, as well as the entire Pac-12, when it came to swiping bases, stealing 22 on 24 attempts to lead the conference. Rood’s ability to get on base played into her high steal total as she finished 2016 with an on-base percentage of .481.

Jackson and Rood’s ability to steal bases is much more important than advancing 60 feet. With either one on the base paths, pitchers have to keep them in mind, which can deter their attention from the batter at hand.

The speedy tandem may not look to steal every time they safely reach base, but garnering a pick off attempt or two is enough to give their teammates in the batter’s box an upper hand.

A pitcher deviating her attention away from a hitter, however slightly, can pay dividends. With the speed of Jackson and Rood in mind, pitchers may rush their deliveries to contain the run game, but delivery speed can be the difference in painting a corner or hanging a pitch.

Cal’s trip to Puerto Rico will be a special one for head coach Diane Ninemire, as the Bears will play all five games at Estadio Donna Terry (Donna Terry Stadium), named after the winningest head coach in Cal softball history. The upcoming tournament will be the first in the stadium’s history.

Justice delos Santos covers softball. Contact him at [email protected]