A journey to the NCAA record books doesn’t actually start with a single step. For Cal softball’s newcomers and freshmen, it starts with a preseason tournament. As teams scramble to find a reliable starting nine, every game is a chance for the Bears’ fresh faces to prove themselves and secure a starting job.
The Bears passed one of their early season trials Sunday when they finished the Fresno State Tournament with a 3-2 record, winning twice against Saint Mary’s and once against Fordham.
Their time in Fresno came to a disappointing end, however, as they lost back-to-back games to Cal Poly and hosts Fresno State on the final two days of play. Cal remains above .500 on the year with a total of 6 wins and 4 losses, but head coach Diane Ninemire had set high expectations for the weekend.
“I was hoping that we would come out of this tournament 5-0,” Ninemire said. “We ran into a couple speed bumps and we didn’t perform as well as we hoped.”
Sophomore pitcher Alexandra Perez had been almost untouchable at points when the Bears played in the Felsberg Invitational in early February, but she was tagged for both Cal losses despite tossing five shutout innings against Fordham on the second day of the tournament. Perez lasted only an inning against Fresno State after surrendering four earned runs and was pulled after two-plus frames against Cal Poly.
Up stepped junior transfer Chloe Romero, who had a shaky start to the season when she was rattled for five runs against Michigan State and served up the game-winning double in Cal’s loss to Penn State. When she was called upon in Fresno, she came through when the team needed her, throwing 21-plus innings over the five-game event.
“I was very pleased with Chloe Romero’s play and I think we just have a few things to help out Alex get back to where she was last week. They’re both making strides and they’re throwing a lot of innings,” Ninemire said. “If we can get them both going at a good pace in the next week, that will really help our program out.”
The Bears’ lineup has been locked in to start the season with three players carrying a batting average over .400, including freshman catcher Kacey Zobac and sophomore corner infielder and backstop Makena Smith. So far, Ninemire has been impressed with the effort at the plate by Cal’s younger players.
“We still have some refining to do especially with our short game, but again this is a young team facing this kind of competition for the first time in their lives,” Ninemire said. “As long as we learn from our mistakes and move forward, I think our team is working hard and this will benefit us going down the stretch.”
On Wednesday, Cal will visit Saint Mary’s. The Bears will be bolstered by the fact that they’ve beaten the Gaels twice already. On Friday, Carly Romero missed bats in clinical fashion as she twirled a one-hit shutout in a 9-0 rout. The very next day, a first-inning offensive outburst from the Bears propelled them to a 5-2 win.
The Bears ended up taking both games convincingly, but they’ll need all the preparation they can get before conference play commences in March. Tournaments also provide much-needed field time for Cal’s young roster, and Ninemire appreciates the opportunity to play every game that can fit into the Bears’ schedule.
“It’s a much faster paced game than what they’re used to playing in high school and the summer leagues,” Ninemire said. “The only way they can gain this experience is to go through it and they’ve got to learn from the good and the bad.”
The Bears will have to develop their craft one game at a time. Cal plays Saint Mary’s on Wednesday at 2 p.m.