What a difference a week can make.
Just seven days ago, the Cal softball team hoped to extend its winning streak to three games. Starting this weekend, the 7-2 Bears look to push that same streak to seven straight wins.
Making the short trek to Palm Springs, Calif., the No. 8 Bears take part in the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic from Friday through Sunday. After pushing its win total to seven on the season, Cal takes on Georgia Tech, Maryland, Illinois and Nebraska. Favored in all four games, the Bears are still expecting a challenge, both from their opponents and themselves.
“This tournament always has great teams that travel a long way,” senior catcher Lindsey Ziegenhirt said. “But like I said before, every game is Cal softball versus Cal softball, no matter the other team.”
Despite all four opponents being unranked, the tournament won’t be a cakewalk. Bad weather struck Berkeley on Monday night and continued well into Tuesday morning. The onslaught of rain forced the Bears to miss practice on Tuesday.
Having less time to prepare for their opponents shouldn’t handicap the Bears too much against lesser foes. However, Cal’s first opponent, Georgia Tech, boasts an overall record of 8-3, and junior Ashley Thomas’ .457 batting average should give the Cal pitchers fits.
It should be a high-profile duel, as Jolene Henderson is coming back to her dominant ways. The All-American is now 6-2, and hitters are batting .196 off of her.
Cal will also have to put down an Illinois squad that has won nine of its first 10 games. Kikki Stokes has 14 hits in 28 at-bats, and pitcher Tatum Edwards has won six of her first seven starts and has only given up five earned runs in 34 innings pitched.
Edwards will be tasked with shutting down the red-hot Bears lineup, which has scored 39 runs in the past five games. The Bears’ mindset the past few games has centered on making solid contact with the ball and not always swinging for the fences.
“I’m not always gonna hit a home run when I want to,” Ziegenhirt said. “I just want to do everything I can do help out my team, and if I hit a home run, I hit a home run.”
Ziegenhirt has accounted for five home runs in the midst of this offensive explosion. One of those bombs was a grand slam that propelled Cal to a come-from-behind win against Portland State. Even more impressive about Ziegenhirt’s home run total is that she has taken only 14 at-bats this entire season. Amazingly, Ziegenhirt is going yard in almost 36 percent of her at bats.
The Bears expect to go 4-0 this weekend. While its strengths have been evident in their current win streak, Cal knows that it must keep discovering its weaknesses and improving to reach the ultimate goal of a College World Series title.
“We take everything in stride,” Ziegenhirt said.
This weekend will just be one step along their journey to the College World Series.