Cal softball heads to Tempe for season-opening Kajikawa Classic

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In Cal softball’s first tournament of the year, the Bears look to get back on track after a disappointing final series during which Cal lost the championship to Alabama. In addition, five freshmen will make their debut at the Arizona State Kajikawa Tournament this Friday through Sunday.

“Our expectation is to win all our games. These are the teams we need to beat in order to prepare for the Pac-12,” said head coach Diane Ninemire. “In order for us to be a competitive team this year and to do as we did last year, these are teams we need to go out and beat.”

The Bears face off against four teams right off the bat, which include No. 7 Florida, No. 34 Kentucky, Cal State Northridge and Indiana.

However, with the loss of superstars Valerie Arioto and Frani Echavarria, other players will need to step up to the plate to fill the offensive void.

Luckily, seniors Lindsey Ziegenhirt and Jolene Henderson are the perfect players to fill that gap.

“We have two great seniors on this team — Jolene Henderson and Lindsay Ziegenhirt,” said Ninemire. “They are complete team players who have embraced our younger players to give them an opportunity to grow and allow them to make some mistakes.”

This relationship between Henderson, Ziegenhirt and the five new freshmen has improved greatly throughout the offseason by allowing the freshmen to learn and grow under veteran leadership. On Thursday, the relationship between the players will be brought into the game for the first time.

“We’ve been scrimmaging each other for the past couple weeks, so going out the first game and seeing how we play against another team is going to show us what the team is like,” said Henderson.

In order to get the wins for this tournament, Ninemire was focused on beating Florida and Kentucky. As the Gators have won six of the last nine games against Cal, it will not be an easy game for the Bears to win.

“We need a great pitching performance from our All-American, Jolene Henderson,” said Ninemire. “She’s going to be the engine that drives our team this year. She’s definitely going to be an arm we’re going to be leaning on, especially against the tougher teams.”

In addition, the last time Cal faced Kentucky, the Bears dropped the ball, allowing an 8-0 loss against the Wildcats. These teams have not been easy opponents, due to their own supplies of skilled players. Florida’s Lauren Haeger and Kentucky’s Kara Dill will be the players Cal needs to watch out for during this three-day tournament.

“I expect a lot out of this team, and we all expect a lot out of each other,” said Henderson. “We’re not that focused on the end result but more on the process on how we’re getting through the games.”

The Bears hope that the leadership provided by Henderson and the rest of the upperclassmen will help Cal start on a good note this season.

“We have a wealth of experience on this team that has played at the very top, and now we just need to put it all together,” said Ninemire.

Johnny Zhang covers softball. Contact him at [email protected].