Cal softball aims high entering season-opening tournament in Louisiana

Athlete prepares to hit the ball with a bat as a catcher prepares to receive the ball in her mitt.
Catherine Wallin/File

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With a deadly one-two punch on the mound and loads of offensive firepower, the Cal softball team will attempt to muscle its way through one of the toughest conferences in the country while looking to qualify for the postseason for a fifth straight year.

Cal is back this weekend with legendary head coach Diane Ninemire once again calling the shots from the dugout in her 31st season. She will lead her talented squad into the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to battle in the Ragin’ Cajuns Classic with five games against four different schools.

“We’ve been scrimmaging each other for over a month now, and nothing gets more boring than that,” Ninemire said. “I think it’s time now that these games get going. Giving the players a new challenge will really get us going.”

The Bears begin their onslaught against Fordham on Saturday morning, then wake up on Sunday for a doubleheader against Incarnate Word and Texas A&M, Corpus Christi. The long weekend trickles into Monday, as the team will close with an afternoon doubleheader against the Ragin’ Cajuns.

Ninemire asserted that every nonconference game leading up to Pac-12 play will be of the utmost importance this season. Cal will face a whopping eight top-25 nonconference opponents before playing four more of them when conference play rolls around.

“After you go through the Pac-12, you’re not scared or worried about anybody that’s on the outside because you have already gone through those wars during the season,” Ninemire said. “Every game we play prepares us in some way. We just have to play one game at a time here for the first 30 games or so.”

Ninemire will be looking to her pair of flame-throwing senior right-handers, Kamalani Dung and Zoe Conley, to carry the weight in most of the innings this season. Dung impressively ended last season with a 1.96 ERA and 186 strikeouts alongside Conley’s stout 2.25 ERA and 189 strikeouts.

Senior infielder Lindsay Rood will continue to wreak havoc for opposing pitchers after posting a .337 batting average and a team-leading 62 hits last season. With their most balanced squad in recent memory, it’s difficult to find a glaring weakness in this team given the competitive jump from preseason scrimmages to customary five-game weekends.

“I think we are definitely going to have to start functioning as a unit,” Dung said. “We have a lot of experienced upperclassmen and a lot of really talented underclassmen. So I think once we get all of the wheels turning in the same direction, we’re going to have a really good year.”

Ninemire will be faced with the challenge of properly integrating her younger crop of talent as the season progresses, including freshman pitcher Alexandra Perez, who will likely be involved in the pitching rotation sooner rather than later. The confidence Ninemire instills throughout the team will be a huge asset for Perez and her teammates leading up to the postseason.

“We just want to get ourselves in a good position to qualify for regionals,” Ninemire said. “If this team comes out of (nonconference play) with a good record, then I think that we can go very deep in the tournament. We’ll let our play on the field do the talking. We’ll just come out, roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

The Bears hope to return to the College World Series this season, having fallen short of the finale for the past six years. As far as aspirations go, sophomore outfielder Mikayla Coelho, who hit a team-high seven home runs in 2018, simply stated this season’s main objective:

“To win,” Coelho said.

Spencer Golanka covers softball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @sgolanka.