With 264 days since its last official game, Cal softball will hit the ground running this weekend with five games in three days as a part of the Capital City Kickoff tournament at Shea Stadium in Sacramento.
The tournament consists of four teams: host Sacramento State, Cal, Santa Clara and UCSB. All four schools hail from different conferences, with Sac State representing the Big Sky, Cal the Pac-12, Santa Clara the West Coast Conference and UCSB the Big West.
The Bears will play their first game of the tournament on Friday against a UCSB squad that finished just a few games above .500 in the 2017 season. The two teams played each other only once last season, with Cal coming out on top in a decisive 5-1 victory at home.
After graduating seven seniors at the end of last season, the Bears only have four remaining veterans on their roster, making for a very young team overall. Indeed, with five freshmen and three junior transfers to boot, Cal will have a lot of new faces in the dugout.
On the offensive side of things, four of Cal’s top-six hitters from last season will be returning, including shortstop junior Lindsay Rood, who led the team in batting average with an impressive .331. Joining her is senior Jazmyn Jackson, who led the team in doubles (17) and RBIs (33).
On the mound this season, the Bears will again have workhorse redshirt-junior Zoe Conley, who tossed 223 innings last season. Conley led the team in ERA (2.67) and struck out 159 batters, which was good for sixth-best in the Pac-12.
In addition to three other returning pitchers, Cal picked up junior Kamalani Dung from Fresno State. Dung had a great sophomore campaign with the Bulldogs, posting a 2.23 ERA in 254.1 innings pitched, and finishing with a 26-15 record.
Following their lone game on Friday, the Bears are slated to play back-to-back doubleheaders Saturday and Sunday. On both days they will first play Santa Clara and then Sacramento State, with their last game of the weekend Sunday at 2:30 pm.
The Bears started off their season last year in the Puerto Rico Tournament, and ended up winning four of their five games. The hot start proved to be a good recipe, as they went on to win nine straight following the opening tournament.
Cal plays only one home game in February this year, and it comes only three days after the end of the Capital City Kickoff.
At the helm for the Bears this season is a familiar and formidable face: Diane Ninemire, who is entering her 30th season of coaching for Cal. At her side is associate head coach Tammy Lohmann, who will be in her 12th year with the team.
After finishing last season 32-24 overall and making it to the NCAA regionals, Cal is looking to go even further this season. It will all depend on the team’s performance in its home conference, the formidable Pac-12, in which Cal struggled last season, finishing 6-17.
The Bears have plenty of time to prepare, though, with 27 games standing between them and their first conference game against the Oregon State Beavers on March 16.
Cal will get to that in due time, but for now, it’s all about that first pitch of the season in less than 48 hours.
Matthew Selman covers softball. Contact him at [email protected]