When Oregon State recorded the final out in its 5-3 win over the Cal softball team last Saturday, the fate of the Bears’ season was no longer in their hands. After 352 hard-fought innings and 52 games over the course of four months, the question of whether Cal would live to play another game could only be answered by the Division I Softball Committee on an at-large basis. Only a few hours after their final game of the regular season, that question was answered.
The Bears will live to see at least two more games.
In its 31st postseason appearance in school history and 29th under head coach Diane Ninemire, Cal (30-22) will participate in the Auburn Regional along with East Tennessee State (29-24), seven-seeded and eight-ranked Auburn (46-10) and Notre Dame (33-21). With the exception of Stanford, Cal and every team in the Pac-12 will have a shot at a national championship.
The Bears’ first stop in their quest for a second national championship will pit them against the Fighting Irish, one of three teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference to crack the tournament. Notre Dame has been no stranger to the big stage this season, stealing wins from No. 10/11 Michigan State, No. 11/12 Georgia and No. 4/5 Oklahoma early in the season.
Cal will take on Notre Dame at Jane B. Moore Field in Auburn on Friday at 11 a.m. (PST). Should the Bears win, they’ll battle with the winner of Auburn/East Tennessee State, the former being the heavy favorite.
Notre Dame has an abundance of individual talent as four of its players, sophomores Ali Wester and Melissa Rochford, junior Morgan Reed and senior Karley Wester, were All-ACC selections. The Wester sisters were named to the All-ACC first-team while Reed and Rochford were named to the All-ACC second-team.
Cal’s pitching staff must be ready to battle with one of the most potent Big Fours it has faced all season. The Wester sisters as well as Rochford and Reed have a combined batting average of .355 and combined on-base percentage of .451 in the regular season.
Although she was not selected for an All-ACC team, the Bears’ pitching staff will also have to be on the lookout for sophomore Caitlyn Brooks, who hit .304 to go with an on-base percentage of .462 and a team-high 24 walks. Brooks’ seven home runs are tied with Reed for the most on the team.
Friday’s projected starter redshirt sophomore Zoe Conley will likely have the responsibility of shutting down the Notre Dame offense. Conley ended her first season as a Bear with an ERA of 2.80 and 145 strikeouts, but has struggled a bit in her last five appearances, totaling an ERA of 4.30 over 25.1 innings.
With 200.1 innings tossed in 41 appearances, the redshirt sophomore became the first Cal pitcher to throw 200 innings in a season since Jolene Henderson threw 286.1 innings in 2013.
Cal has no shortage of all-conference talent as well as junior Jazmyn Jackson, senior Kylie Reed and sophomore Lindsay Rood were selected to the All-Pac-12 team, the third selections for Jackson and Kylie Reed and the second selection for Rood. Jackson was named to the All-Pac-12 second-team while Kylie Reed and Rood were named to the All-Pac-12 third-team.
Justice delos Santos covers softball. Contact him at [email protected]