Cal softball looks to rebound against Oregon State, keep Pac-12 title hopes alive

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It was just a little over a year ago when the Cal softball team finished first in the Pac-12, one of the toughest conferences in the nation, with a dominating 21-3 record.

Fast forward almost one year, and the No. 10 Bears (33-8, 7-5 Pac-12) are sitting in fourth place. Three games back of first-place Oregon, Cal doesn’t control its own destiny in the Pac-12, but a sweep of last-place Oregon State (26-15, 3-9 Pac-12) would ensure that they remain a factor in the Pac-12 race.

The Bears take on the Beavers from Friday to Sunday in a three-game set. According to starting third baseman Danielle Henderson, the key for Cal will be to worry about its own business — not Oregon’s.

“We’re not at all thinking of catching Oregon right now,” Henderson said. “We’re just focused on the games ahead of us.”

The key to defeating Oregon State will come down to how effective Henderson’s sister, Jolene, is in the circle. Henderson, who is 27-7 on the season with a 1.27 ERA, will have her hands full with a Beavers lineup that has five players batting at least .300.

Ya Garcia and Natalie Hampton lead the way for Oregon State’s lineup. Garcia is batting .379 while Hampton has jacked 13 long balls this season to go along with her sizzling .362 batting average.

Even if Henderson manages to shut down both down, she will need offensive help. The Cal offense struggled as of late — the primary reason for the last two series losses to UCLA and Oregon.

Against UCLA last weekend, Cal only managed to score 12 runs in 28 innings of play. With eight of those runs coming in two innings, the Bears demonstrated their fast-strike ability. But by only scoring four runs in the remaining 26 innings, Cal’s lack of hitting success with runners in scoring position was highlighted as the main culprit.

Moving forward, Henderson asserted the importance of being in the right frame of mind.

“We focused on relaxing,” Danielle Henderson said. “We put more pressure on ourselves than was necessary.”

After only winning one game against UCLA last weekend, Cal took care of business in a non conference clash against Santa Clara (6-35) on Wednesday. In a 5-0 victory against the Broncos, Cal was able give Jolene Henderson some much-needed rest, as all 17 healthy players received playing time.

Despite the bumpy conference season to this point, Danielle Henderson thinks the adversity of the regular season will pay dividends in the postseason. The majority of the roster was on the team that won the Pac-12 title last season and still remember that dominating run.

But they also remember faltering in the later rounds of the NCAA Women’s College World Series later that same season.

“There are going to be all kinds of struggles, both offensive and defensive,” Danielle Henderson said. “We’re learning how to bounce back from them.

“Last year in the postseason, where we did great the entire season and then faced with adversity in the end, it wasn’t so great.”

Sean Wagner-McGough covers softball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @seanjwagner.