Thumb Wars: Is Cal softball > Cal baseball?

Cal softball vs. UC Davis, 3/7/12

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It was a rough opening weekend for the Cal softball team.

However, in a season that is destined to take it back to the Women’s College World Series, this weekend’s results at the Kajikawa Classic should be regarded as nothing but a minor speed bump.

Over at Evans Diamond, however, it’s expected to be a rough season for the Cal baseball team.

Coming off a 29-25 season and a meager 12-18 record in Pac-12 play, Cal baseball has been picked by the coaches to place seventh in the conference in 2013. They are unranked to begin the season. The Cal softball team, meanwhile, was ranked as the third-best team in the nation.

Despite losing their top three leaders in batting average from 2012, the Bears still boast a lineup that will strike fear in the heart of any starting pitcher.

After wrapping up last weekend with a pounding over Indiana, softball coach Diane Ninemire didn’t seem too concerned about her team’s early season struggles. And Henderson, disappointed in her performance, wasn’t panicked about her rough start. She said she would rather struggle now, as opposed to in May, when the games take on a whole new level of importance. Don’t expect Henderson’s struggles to continue. Prior to this weekend, Henderson’s record as a starter the past two seasons was a whopping 78-12.

So just how good is this Bears squad? They might not be the team of 2012 — a team that went 58-7 before falling to current-No. 1 Alabama in the College World Series. But with a star-studded lineup and one of the nation’s best pitchers on the mound, the Bears’ aspirations should remain unchanged from 2012. There is no doubt that a national championship is still a realistic expectation.

And in Berkeley, the Cal softball team is the champion of the diamond.


One would think any team with both Chris Paul and Michael Jordan would be pretty close to unstoppable.

Unfortunately, Paul and Jordan are part of Cal baseball’s 2011 recruiting class and not current or future NBA Hall-of-Famers. Both should still be positive contributors to a Bears squad that writers predicted to finish seventh in a stacked Pac-12 conference.

Paul, a sophomore utility man, and Jordan, a freshman right-handed pitcher, bear some responsibility for filling the holes left by the myriad graduates of last year’s disappointing squad.

But not all key members departed.The main anchor of the pitching staff, left-hander Justin Jones, was a 26th-round selection of the Minnesota Twins in the MLB draft. Jones declined to sign with the Twins, instead deciding to stay and pitch his senior year to boost his draft stock. Jones will look to return to his 2011 form, where he compiled a 2.93 ERA and posted a better K/BB ratio than that of his junior campaign.

Junior lefties Michael Theofanopolous and Kyle Porter fill out the rest of the rotation. Theofanopolous struggled with his control in 2012 but brings 14 starts worth of experience to the rotation. Porter made a few spot starts and displayed flashes of talent. Behind the experience of the southpaw trio, the Bears may be able to forge their way to respectability within the conference.

It’s not likely that the Cal baseball team will steal the diamond spotlight from the third-ranked softball team, but it is plausible.

Without college softball’s reigning best player, Valerie Arioto, Diane Ninemire’s squad figures to take a big step back offensively. Arioto’s ability to get on base at ridiculous rates set the table for the rest of the lineup.  It’s going to be difficult to replace Arioto’s powerful presence. And if Jolene Henderson continues to struggle as she did against Florida (seven runs allowed), maybe they’ll fall flat and miss the NCAAs.

It’s pretty unlikely.