Fresh off a disappointing early-round exit in the Pac-12 tournament, the Bears have now found themselves quickly shifting focus to the NCAA softball tournament after hearing their names called this past Sunday at the NCAA bracket selection show. The Norman-bound blue and gold are excited for the chance to compete for a national championship.
“It has been a goal of ours since the beginning of the fall and coach (Chelsea Spencer) really has turned this program around. She has helped us in many ways to get us to where we are today and that’s just a testament to her,” said All-Conference catcher Kacey Zobac. “We’re just excited to be in the tournament and to be given a chance at a run regardless of who we’re gonna play or who we got matched up with.”
The Oklahoma Sooners have been ranked as the first-seeded team in the tournament for the fourth year in a row. The Sooners are coming off two consecutive national championships and are undoubtedly the favorites for another win.
The luck of the draw placed Cal into the Norman Regional with Missouri, Hofstra and the host, Oklahoma.
The Bears’ tournament begins in the regional round, in which they will compete in a double elimination series with the other three teams. Only one of the four teams will move on to the super-regionals, which will be a best-of-three series against the winner from the Clemson Regional.
Cal started its season strong, but conference play began to challenge this ballclub. However, the Bears had notable wins this season against top-25 opponents such as UCLA, Utah and Stanford while also competing with Washington and Oregon.
After a grueling conference schedule, the Bears’ experience is undoubted. Entering postseason play, it’s just a matter of whether or not Cal can stay consistent and find ways to stay in games against these tougher opponents. That consistency will be put to the test Friday at Marita Hynes Field against the Missouri Tigers as the difficult road to become national champions begins.
Despite being placed in a regional with the Sooners — a team that holds a 51-1 record and is currently on a 43-game winning streak — the Bears are not looking ahead and worrying about a team that they do not have on the schedule yet. Zobac herself did not seem troubled about the thought of facing the Sooners as she remains confident in Cal’s ability to compete.
“We study up on pitchers and we do all the same work going into each game regardless of who the competition is … We just go out there and fight and play our game no matter who we’re playing,” Zobac said. “First and foremost, our primary focus is the Missouri game. We’ll never get to the Oklahoma game if we don’t take care of business with the other teams in our bracket.”
The Tigers play in the SEC, one of the more complete and polished conferences in college athletics. This game will reveal just how much of a threat the Bears will be going forward in the tournament. Both teams also had nearly identical records, with Missouri at 34-24 and Cal sitting at 33-19-1.
Even with the stress of competition looming, Zobac is looking forward to what Norman holds for the Bears.
“(Given) that it’s my last year, I’m looking forward to this experience. I’m excited that the last year that I’m playing we’re gonna get that postseason run, and I know it’s going to be awesome to experience the stadium and the fans and everything like that in Oklahoma,” Zobac said.
Cal’s catcher is eager to get out on the field and to have one last dance with her team, as the Bears aspire to be the last team standing.