No. 4 Bears open year with sweep as Arioto returns

As the ball flew, and flew, and finally cleared the left field wall, Valerie Arioto made a decisive statement: She is back.

Arioto’s home run was the result of her first at-bat since being out for over a year. After breaking her leg on the second day of practice of her true-senior season, Arioto redshirted the year, making Friday’s matchup against No. 9 Tennessee her triumphant return to Cal softball. She accented this homer with another later in the game, and a third against Texas State the next day gave her her 35th career home run. In all, she had three home runs and nine RBI to round out the No. 4 Bears’ performance at this weekend’s Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz.

“It was a relief to be back on the field,” the All-American said. “That first hit, I didn’t know it was over! I was sprinting right off the bat. It was definitely a great way to get back, and it’s been really easy to produce with such a great team behind me supporting me.”

Cal swept the tournament, with a 13-5 win over the Lady Vols, a 5-0 victory over Bradley, a 10-0 defeat of Texas State and a 6-3 win over Syracuse to cap off the three days of play.

While Arioto was quick to praise her teammates, junior Jolene Henderson, the 2011 Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year, said that much of the team’s success was inspired by Arioto’s return.

“Val being back had a big impact,” Henderson said. “She sparked the rest of the team to hit. A lot of the games last year were closer, but these games were high scoring. Our team really stepped up, and she provided the spark and consistency and power.”

Arioto was not the only one making a debut this weekend, as the team welcomed its new talent to the field. The freshmen made quite an entrance to the Cal program. Danielle Henderson, Jolene’s younger sister, had a home run in her first game as a Bear, and another the next day as well. Cheyenne Cordes and Breana Kostreba both had strong first showings as well.

“The freshmen are producing, and they add so much versatility to the team,” Jolene Henderson said. “Defense was clean and offense was awesome. They came in playing big and playing like upperclassmen already.”

With this 4-0 start to the season, Cal will take a lot of confidence into next weekend’s Louisville Slugger Desert Classic in Las Vegas. However, Henderson noted that although the team did very well as a whole, almost everyone came away with something to work at individually to make the team even stronger. The Bears are also focused on not letting their guard down. Though their eyes are set on success in the postseason, they do not want to overlook or underestimate any games in the path to getting there.

“A lot of teams have to build up, but we are starting at a high point,” Arioto said. “And obviously we want to keep building and be high at the end of the season, but a great start is always a good thing.”