Cal softball leads off with impressive showing in Puerto Rico Tournament

Sam Engel/File

As the Cal softball team prepared for its first action of the new season, denying that the team’s upcoming series possessed no extraordinary significance was impossible.

The first games of a brand-new season are always a special occasion, and playing said games in another country — namely one centered around baseball and softball as much as Puerto Rico — makes the occasion that much sweeter. But these facts alone fail to encapsulate the gravity of the Bears’ tournament.

Cal’s tournament did not take place at any ordinary stadium, but rather one named after one of the school’s legendary head coaches, Donna Terry — the winningest softball coach in UC Berkeley history before her death in 1988. With Terry watching from afar, Diane Ninemire and the Bears made their old head coach proud, winning four out of five games to kick off their season.

Despite playing in Puerto Rico’s hot and humid weather, contrasting the year-round coolness at their home stadium in Berkeley, the Bears couldn’t feel more at home.

The Bears bested Georgia Tech twice as well as taking one apiece from North Carolina and Illinois. Their lone loss came at the hands of North Carolina on the backend of a Saturday back-to-back.

Cal ended the tournament with a run differential of +12, scoring 31 runs while only allowing 19, and held Georgia Tech and North Carolina to only one run each in its first two match-ups. This was in large part because of stellar pitching from a newcomer to the squad, Zoe Conley.

Conley, who was the Big West’s Freshman Pitcher of the Year in 2015 while at CSU Northridge, had no problem making a good impression during her first regular season action.

Opponents dreaded having to face Conley while she was on the mound, as she only allowed three total earned runs, good for a 1.22 ERA and totaling 19 strikeouts. She recorded wins in the Bears’ 8-1 victory against Georgia Tech and 3-1 win North Carolina in their first two games, not allowing a single earned run over 14 innings.

Conley also played the role of closer for Cal in the team’s third game of the tournament against Georgia Tech and struck out the only batter she faced during her relief appearance to shut the door on a 10-8 Cal win.

North Carolina redeemed itself during its second time around, tagging Conley for three earned runs during her seven innings of work in the Bears’ 4-1 loss. North Carolina freshman Brittany Pickett outdueled Conley on the mound, allowing only one run over seven innings pitched.

Conley made another relief appearance during the final game of the tournament against Illinois, pitching a scoreless seventh to close out a 9-5 victory and end the tournament.

Scoring 31 runs, or just a little over six per game in the tournament, requires an offensive front to fire on all cylinders, and the Bears had no shortage of production at the plate.

Leading the Bears with the bat during the tournament was junior Kobie Pettis, who totaled four walks, three RBI and seven hits in 15 at-bats while reaching base safely at least once in every game.

Sophomore Lindsay Rood played in only the first three games of the tournament, but racked up five runs on four hits while collecting three walks. Junior Jazmyn Jackson had a solid tournament playing multiple positions for the Bears, totaling five runs scored, five hits and five RBI.

Cal will look to build off its hot start during next weekend as it heads to Southern California for the three-day Palms Spring Classic. The Bears will battle with Illinois once again, as well as Kent State, University of San Diego and University of Central Florida.

Justice delos Santos covers softball. Contact him at [email protected]