Cal softball seeks NCAA championship

Jan Flatley-Feldman/File

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Coming one step short to a championship title last season in a disappointing loss to Alabama in the Women’s College World Series, those of the Cal softball team, especially the veterans, ended last season with a bitter taste in their mouths.

For the Bears this season, the path to the WCWS will be driven by that feeling of inching so close to their goal yet falling just short as the end was in sight.

“We learned a lot about the desire and the hunger to win last season,” catcher Lindsey Ziegenhirt said. “We were expected to win, and when we didn’t, a lot of the returners were left with that taste in their mouths.”

For Ziegenhirt and pitcher Jolene Henderson, the two lone seniors of this team, their championship window is closing.

But they will need to win with a revamped squad. Cal’s lineup consists of five new freshmen replacing five seniors who were integral in the Bears’ appearance in the WCWS last season.

Of the five seniors, Jamia Reid, Frani Echavarria and Valerie Arioto were the most important in Cal’s appearance in the WCWS, leading the team in hits and batting average.

They combined for nearly 40 percent of the team’s hits and about 30 percent of the team’s RBIs.

Arioto led the team in home runs and total runs with 23 and 65, respectively.

The leadership of Henderson and Ziegenhirt has provided a strong framework for the freshmen to build upon.

“I think we’re doing a really great job in staying hungry for that desire to win,” said Ziegenhirt. “We’ve had challenges this season already, but it’s such a long season, and we’re building and worrying and coming together every weekend.”

At first, the Bears didn’t look like the championship contenders they were last season.

After dropping two games in the first tournament of the year, the No. 9 Bears played uncharacteristically when they lost against unranked Kentucky.

The Wildcats stole the game from Cal after coming back from a 2-0 deficit, tying the game and eventually winning 3-2 in extra innings.

“We just have to take our losses and just work from them,” said freshman Khala Taylor.
“Personally, the mistakes that we made in game were really easy to avoid and we just need to practice accordingly.”

As of now, the Bears are clicking and their six-game winning streak after the loss to Florida may be proof of improved chemistry.

Ziegenhirt believes that the team is meshing better this season and players are stepping up.

The attitude of success is rubbing off on the freshmen in a big way.

The freshmen combined for a total of 13 hits during these last six games, led by Taylor who hit seven herself.

“We need to make sure whoever is in the lineup, one through nine, is doing the best they can and producing,” said Ziegenhirt. “It’s an individual game, but it ends up being a team game, so we just need our one through nine to produce the best they can.”

Ziegenhirt and Henderson are leading the one through nine right now with their spectacular play. The two combined for a whopping 15 RBIs during the team’s win streak and dominated on the defensive level providing three shutouts and holding all six teams to six total runs.

“Obviously we had a slower start this season, but if we can take everything in stride, we can continue to get better every weekend,” said Ziegenhirt. “Whatever happened in the past, happened in the past, so if we can get by that, we can continue getting better every weekend.”

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