No. 1 Cal begins Hawaii Spring Fling with Aggies

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The No. 1 Cal softball team is getting a little repetitive.

After a fifth consecutive weekend in which the Bears not only swept their four opponents but mercilessly shellacked them, Cal begins the ascent towards the tallest mountain of all: Pac-12 play.

But before the inaugural conference opener against Stanford on March 23, the Bears play in one more preseason tournament, hoping to replicate the results of the previous five.

The location this time is the Hawaii Spring Fling in Honolulu, a tournament coach Diane Ninemire assessed as the team’s most difficult competition to date.

“We face three teams in the top 20,” Ninemire said. “We need to keep building off a strong non-conference schedule to prepare for Pac-12 play.”

The first game on Wednesday at 1 p.m. against No. 21 Texas A&M signifies the second time Cal will face off against a ranked opponent and the first time since the opening weekend against No. 8 Tennessee.

A&M has traversed a grueling nonconference schedule on its way to the tournament. After kicking off the season at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz., with wins against No. 10 Stanford and No. 14 Arizona, the Aggies have battled No. 3 Washington, No. 4 Florida, Nebraska, and BYU.

Voted to finish fifth in the Big 12 in preseason polls, A&M has so far lived up to expectations, compiling a 16-8 record despite facing off against many quality opponents.

Sophomore leadoff hitter Emily Albus has compiled a .462 average, going 25-for-54 on the year. Strangely, all 25 hits have been singles, a rare occurrence so far into a season.

Pitcher Mel Dumezich has been an anchor for the Aggies, starting 13 games, completing 12 of them, and striking out 122 hitters in 102 1/3 innings while maintaining a 2.33 ERA.

A&M is not the only high-quality opponent the Bears will face this weekend. After Wednesday’s tilt with the Aggies, Cal battles No. 6 Texas and No. 22 Hawaii the following day, with Marist and Winthrop on Friday and Saturday, respectively. The three games in two days against ranked opponents will pose the Bears greatest challenge to date.

Texas has only dropped one game this year (No. 4 Florida) and should give Cal its most difficult matchup yet.

But if history serves to predict future results, the Bears will likely have no trouble. In their only matchup against a top-10 team (Tennessee), Cal cruised to an easy 13-5 victory behind the pitching of Jolene Henderson and its potent offense.

Add in the results of the past weekend, where the Bears outscored the first three opponents they faced 35-2 in only 16 innings, and Cal looks to have the momentum to keep the undefeated season alive. If Henderson — who was just named Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week — can keep up her hot streak and the rest of the Cal offense can continue to mercy-rule opponents, it is difficult to see the Bears losing this weekend.