Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene...
Cal started the year being ranked 3rd in both of the preseason polls thanks to the return of ace Jolene Henderson despite losing plenty of offense in slugger Valeria Arioto (who is now anchoring the USA Softball lineup), table setter in speedster Jamia Reid (her twin Elia), and team leader in OF Frani Echavarria.
Despite that, you are as good as the pitcher in the circle, and the Bears do have quite a good one there in Jolene Henderson.
Oh here is the introduction of the entire team before a home game.
The Bears' lineup does also return Jolene's little sister Daniele Henderson, who was named to the All Regional team last season along side Jolene and the graduated Valerie Arioto and Jamia Reid.
Also back in the Bears' lineup were SS Cheyenne Cordes, an overachiever who had earned a spot on the US Junior National Team and the new leadoff hitter; fellow sophomore Breanna Kostreaba; senior catcher and high school teammate of Jolene, Lindsey Ziegenhirt; injured former table setter in the Netherland native Britt Vonk; and C/1B Victoria Jones. Newcomers who earned big role for the Bears were a couple of outfielders in Khala Taylor and Vanessa Alvarez.
A very pleasant surprise was the performance of Cal senior Lindsey Ziegenhirt, who picked up the slack left by Val Arioto and became that slugging threat for the Bears in the middle of the lineup. Ziegnhirt, who also became the first Cal Bears to win the Pac-12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Lindsey led the Bears in RBI (54), home runs (17) and slugging percentage (.662). She exits Cal ranked fourth in program history for home runs in a season (17) and career (42), and fifth all-time with 151 career RBI. Off the Softball Diamond, she also sports a very healthy 3.77 cumulative GPA. Kudos to Lindsey!
OF Khala Taylor looks rather physically imposing to be a power hitter, but she executed her role as a new table setter for the Bears very well. Leading the team in batting average with 0.342 and stolen bases 13 in 16 attempts.
Despite some good individual performances, the team struggled at times to score runs consistently. In Pac-12 play, the Bears' offense was ranked 8th/9th in run scored, batting average, etc. Oh by the way, the Pac-12 Softball conference consists of only 9 teams. The only offensive category where the Bears were in the upper half was homeruns (4th).
Despite this, the Bears were still in contention to defend their conference title thanks to the strong pitching of Jolene Henderson, who the Bears have ridden quite hard, particularly in conference play. Without a quality second pitcher to help out with Jo (Val Arioto served that role last year), the Bears were in quite a bit of trouble when Jolene hurt her left knee (still iffy in the details, the extent of her injury). With Jolene not quite available for the next 8 games (in addition to the game where she got hurt), the Bears went on a 9 game losing streak that was ugly in that the Bears were mercy ruled quite a few times in that stretch.
Entering Regional Play, Jolene threw 13 shutouts (14 by the end of year including the no-hitter over Valpo) with a miniscule ERA of 1.23 despite the heavy workload.
Thankfully, Jolene made her way back and was able to build back up her workload to finally win the regular season finale against Washington. The losing streak did eliminate any hopes for the Bears to host a regional, however.
So the Bears got relegated to the Michigan Regional against the 8th seed Michigan along with Central Michigan and Valparaiso. Here is what senior Catcher Lindsey Ziegenhirt has to say about that.
Sloppy defense and a few ill placed pitches by the not as dominant Jolene Henderson allowed host Michigan to beat the Bears once. Facing elimination, Jolen tossed her 4th no-hitter in shutting down Valpo, but the Bears faltered again against Michigan and finish the season at Ann Arbor in the Michigan Regional. Closing the book on the brilliant careers of Jolene Henderson and Lindsey Ziegenhirt.
For the season, the Bears finished with a record of 38-19 with a 10-14 conference record (tied for the 5th best record).
From the Regional press release:
Head coach Diane Ninemire announced in November that three new faces would be joining the Golden Bears softball squad come 2014. Alleah Laxamana, Kylie Reed and Katie Sutherland-Finch will all suit up in the blue & gold next season. A 5-7 catcher from Long Beach, Calif., Laxamana could see time in the lineup due to the departure of senior catcher Lindsey Ziegenhirt. Reed, from Corona, Calif., led her team to multiple championship titles, and as a junior was named a member of the ESPN Rise All-America team, among others. RHP Sutherland-Finch will undoubtedly help fill the void left by Jolene Henderson after she graduates, as Sutherland-Finch was the 6A Pacific conference Pitcher of the year with 318 strikeouts in her junior season.
Bears need an impact freshman in the circle next year to compete in the Pac-12. Of course, freshman Nisa Ontiveros and sophomore Nikki Owens may up their games this off season, but their performances in 2013 inside the circle in conference play did not show that they belong. As for depending on a freshman to lead the way, the Bears only have to look at Michigan to see a team that advanced to the Super-Regional while being led by their freshman SS.
Given her splendid track record, Cal fans should expect coach Ninemire to bring the Bears back to the post-season and compete again for the conference title next year, even if it currently looks to be a rebuilding year.
ROLL ON YOU BEARS!