The opening week of any sports season is arguably the most crucial. It not only sets a team’s tone right off the bat, but it also gives opponents an initial glimpse at the squad’s strengths and weaknesses.
While the Bears were far from perfect and showed signs of inconsistency at the plate and on the field last weekend, they showed early signs of a team destined for a season full of big victories. In their first action since the Cal Fall Tournament II, the Bears left the Puerto Rico Tournament with four wins in five of their opening contests, accentuated by Sunday’s 9-5 victory over Illinois.
With opening weekend excitement and any potential jitters out of the way, the team flew back home after it’s game Sunday and is currently preparing for more competition in this weekend’s Palm Springs Classic. The Bears’ opponents include Kent State, University of Central Florida, University of San Diego and a team that they already squared off against earlier this season — Illinois.
“I thought we had a good showing this weekend and played some really good games,” said head coach Diane Ninemire. “Unfortunately, we lost one game, but we did have a lot of scoring opportunities that we could’ve taken advantage of.”
The team’s lone defeat, a 4-1 loss to UNC, was redshirt sophomore Zoe Conley’s third complete game of the tournament. She finished the tournament with two wins and one loss, and she also closed the Bears’ 10-8 win against Georgia Tech. Not bad for a player who sat out last year because of transfer rules, all in just one weekend of work.
“I felt like I pitched pretty well (this weekend),” Conley said. “It was my first time playing after taking a year off, and I feel like I’m where I need to be.”
After a rematch with the Illini on Friday afternoon, the Bears will have a doubleheader on Saturday against Kent State and Central Florida before concluding the weekend with a battle against San Diego on Sunday. With four games in another three-day span, Ninemire will need Conley and the rest of the rotation to continue to pitch effectively.
“Our pitchers were pitching at pretty high (pitch counts) and we can really improve there,” Ninemire said. “I feel like the competition will be a little bit stronger this weekend, so we’ll look to make adjustments there.”
Aside from surrendering seven opening inning runs in Saturday’s 10-8 victory against the Yellow Jackets, the pitching staff gave up only 11 runs for the rest of the tournament. On the offensive side, the Bears’ deep lineup produced eight runs or more in three of the five contests. In the humid atmosphere of San Juan, where temperatures hovered around 85 degrees, junior Kobie Pettis reached base safely in every single game and finished the tournament with a .579 on-base-percentage. But despite an overall solid performance, Pettis knows that consistency will be key in finding more wins in Palm Springs.
“I want our team to be more consistent throughout our games,” Pettis said. “We want to win every game, not just all but one. We’re going to Palm Springs with the goal of coming back with four wins.”
Josh Yuen covers softball. Contact him at