Cal bears down on Super Regional competition

Sean Goebel/Staff
The Cal softball team will take on Washington in the first round of the inaugural Berkeley Super Regional competition. Sean Goebel/Staff

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The Cal softball team will rematch conference foe Washington with a trip to the Women’s College World Series on the line.

The teams will face off at Levine-Fricke Field in Berkeley, Calif., in a best of three series in this weekend’s Super Regional. The opening game kicks off at 7 p.m. on Saturday, followed by a 4 p.m. tilt on Sunday, and, if necessary, a tie-breaker at 6:30 p.m. Sunday evening. The series pits the No. 1 Bears (54-5) against the No. 18 Huskies (39-17), both of whom carry hopes of continuing past this weekend’s Super Regional and into the elite final stage of the softball national championship.

Both squads are leaders in an unusual statistic that has the stealthy ability to make a big impact: stolen bases. Cal paces the conference with 86, but  Washington is close behind with 81. In battles between strong defenses, every base counts, and the teams both know that stolen bases can provide an edge.

The two teams faced each other for a conference series at the end of March. Cal swept the home stand with three wins over the visiting Huskies. At the time of the first match-up, the Bears were the top team in the nation, and Washington stood at No. 3.

Since that time, the Bears have continued their dominant streak whereas the Huskies dropped key series to Arizona, UCLA, Oregon State, Arizona State, and Stanford. After gaining an at-large bid to the tournament, Washington swept the Seattle Regional with two wins over Harvard and one over Texas Tech.

The Bears hosted regional play last weekend for the first time since 1993. After easily defeating Iona, Cal lost to Arkansas and had to progress through the loser’s bracket, in which they proceeded to conquer Boston University once and Arkansas twice to advance to the Super Regional.

The Pac-12 has been the most competitive conference in the nation throughout the season, consistently having the most teams ranked in the top-10. The season concluded with seven Pac-12 teams in the top 20 in the nation — more than any other conference. Five Pac-12 teams advanced to the Super Regional. The Bears paced the pack, maintaining the nation’s top rank throughout conference play.

After gaining a berth in the Super Regional, the Bears received more good news. On Wednesday, the squad learned that Valerie Arioto was named as one of three finalists for the USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year. Arioto was recently named the Pac-12 Player of the Year and joins Arizona State’s Katelyn Boyd and Oklahoma’s Keilani Ricketts as a finalist for the national recognition.

The Super Regional games will be broadcast live on ESPN2.