When Jolene Henderson went down with a left-knee injury on April 21, Cal softball coach Diane Ninemire was forced to rely on a reserve pitching rotation and an offense that was among the worst in the Pac-12.
But nobody could have expected Cal to fall apart like it has in the last seven games.
Winless in their last seven attempts, the No. 12 Bears (35-15, 9-12 Pac-12) were dispatched with relative ease by their archrival, No. 16 Stanford (35-17, 12-9 Pac-12). The Cardinal ripped the Bears apart, winning 13-5 on Friday, 17-2 on Saturday and 7-5 on Sunday.
“(Henderson’s injury) shouldn’t change our quality at-bats,” Ninemire said. “It shouldn’t change the way we throw a ball or field it. It’s a little disturbing to try and understand why the team is responding the way that it is.”
Friday’s game saw the Bears utilize their only three healthy reserve pitchers — Nisa Ontiveros, Nikki Owens and Taylor Lee. The Cardinal jumped all over the trio, scoring 13 runs via 15 hits.
“Our pitching was not up to the Division-1 softball level,” Ninemire said.
The going only got worse for the Cal pitching staff. In one of the most lopsided defeats in school history, the Bears were whipped in game two, 17-2.
In her second straight start, Ontiveros was simply overpowered. The freshman was responsible for eight earned runs, eleven hits and three walks in just two innings of work.
“I was just missing my spots,” Ontiveros said.
With the Bears only managing two runs on one hit, the game was called early due to the mercy rule. At this point in the series, Ninemire decided to turn to an unfamiliar arm for the series finale.
Freshman outfielder Vanessa Alvarez was told roughly an hour before the first pitch that she was going to make her first career start in the circle. Although Alvarez grew up pitching, she hadn’t pitched in eight months, with the exception of one practice session.
“(Starting Alvarez) was a result of the first two games and not getting it done,” Ninemire said. “I felt like we were in a situation where we had to see if we had something else that we could offer to help throw their batters off.”
By limiting Stanford to just a few hits in the early goings, Alvarez kept Cal’s hopes very much alive. Still, the Cardinal took advantage of a couple of risers from Alvarez to jump out to a quick lead off of two home-runs.
“I have a natural rise to my ball,” Alvarez said. “I just left it up there to the bigger girls, and they caught on to it.”
Although Ninemire was impressed with Alvarez’s resolve in her first career start, she was upset with the defensive effort behind the freshman — an effort that led to two critical insurance runs for Stanford.
“Unfortunately, we made key errors behind her today,” Ninemire said. “Those two runs, which scored on those throwing errors, ended up somewhat making a difference in us staying in the game, because we were starting to rally in the last inning.”
“But who knows? Should’ve, could’ve, would’ve.”