The Cal softball team’s season ended the same way it began — with a fine-tuned pitching performance from Jolene Henderson, a dreadful offensive game and a heartbreaking loss.
On Feb. 8, when Cal was regarded as one of the best teams in the nation, it fell to upstart Kentucky, 3-1, in extra innings in the opening game of the season. The loss was seen as nothing more than an anomaly at the time, and the Bears still seemed destined for the Women’s College World Series.
But the Bears (38-19) fell short of winning the Michigan Regional this past weekend, while the hometown Wolverines (48-10) secured the trophy with relative ease.
After overpowering Central Michigan (33-20) 8-1 on Friday, the Bears were blanked by Michigan 5-0 the next day. Cal responded with a 6-0 thrashing of Valparaiso (35-27), a game that saw Henderson (32-11) throw her fourth career no hitter, but ultimately couldn’t solve Michigan pitcher Sara Driesenga in the final game of the regional in a 3-1 loss.
On Friday afternoon, the Cal offense came out firing on all cylinders against Central Michigan pitcher Kara Dornbos. Cal went yard four times in the 8-1 blowout while Henderson, only in her second full game back from her left-knee injury, dominated the CMU lineup from start to finish.
Henderson’s sister, Danielle Henderson, accounted for two of the Bears’ four home runs. The other two long balls came off of the bats of junior Victoria Jones and senior Lindsey Ziegenhirt.
The Bears ran into a roadblock on Saturday, though, when they were shut down by Driesenga. Both Henderson and freshman pitcher Nisa Ontiveros kept pace with Driesenga, but defensive miscues cost the Bears three unearned runs.
After the loss, Cal found itself on the loser’s side of the bracket. Facing Valparaiso for the chance to rematch Michigan in the final round, Henderson was at her best.
For the fourth time in her career, the All-American pitched a no-hitter. Jones led the offensive attack for Cal with two RBIs, and freshman Khala Taylor went three-for-five off of Valparaiso pitcher Sierra Pico (11-10).
Heading into the final matchup with Michigan, the Bears would have had to defeat the Wolverines twice in order to move on to the Super Regional Round next weekend — Michigan, on the other hand, only had to defeat Cal once to advance.
Henderson kept her offense within striking range, only giving up three runs to the vaunted Michigan offense. However, Cal’s offense was stymied — its only run coming off of a home run by shortstop Cheyenne Cordes.
Down to their last three outs and trailing 3-1, the Bears found themselves with the tying run on first base and the winning run at the plate. Up at the plate, Cordes quickly found herself in a full count. With two outs, a double would most likely score both runners and send the game into extra innings. Cordes turned on the payoff pitch and launched it into deep right-center field.
But needing 375 feet to clear the wall for the walk-off home run, Cordes only got enough on the ball for it to travel 370 feet.
It fell harmlessly into the mitt of Michigan outfielder Nicole Sappingfield, ending Cal’s season.