When: 12:30 PT
It's the matchup that everybody wanted to see - except probably not until the Championship Series. But we get it today when the #1 Bears take on the #2 Crimson Tide. The champions of the two best conferences in the nation will battle it out for a spot in softball's final two.
Unfortunately for Cal, it's Alabama who has the advantage. They only need once and they've had a day of rest while Cal was fighting to avoid elimination against Oregon. But this isn't some impossible task. In each of the last two years a team has swept the semi-final double header to reach the Championship Series - including Florida, who did it to Alabama last year.
Alabama's strength is their offense. They're second in the nation in runs/game behind a lineup that can hit for power and average. Kaila Hunt and Amanda Locke supply the power while Jennifer Fenton and Kayla Braud supply the speed. Alabama's offense hasn't been bludgeoning teams in the post-season in quite the same way that they did during the regular season, but they've been supplying enough runs for their pitching.
And so far, their pitching has been Jackie Traina. Traina isn't quite on the same level as the shut-down pitchers Cal has seen against LSU and Oklahoma (she hasn't actually thrown a shut-out yet during the playoffs) but she's still an excellent pitcher very capable of holding great offenses down. Alabama advanced through the winner's bracket because Traina held ASU's potent offense to just one run on Friday.
I think the burden falls on Cal's offense to make things happen today. Jolene Henderson is great, but it's unfair to expect her to shut down Alabama's bats after three complete games in three days. That means it's up to Val and company to give Jolene (or, I suppose Val if she pitches) a lead to protect.
Who's ready for a double-header?