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Bears on the Diamond: Cal Softball gets rough draw in NCAAs (Live Thread for Regionals)

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After a rare losing season in 2014, the Bears are back in the softball postseason! However, the Bears will be heavy underdogs in Ann Arbor.

Cal softball has always had a special place in my heart. Anyone who knows me knows I tend to watch an unhealthy amount of Cal sports, even ones that don't tend to be popular (AKA, any sport that isn't football or men's basketball, although they are the only two I have season tickets for) but for some reason I've always gravitated towards Softball. Maybe it's because when I started out as Cal in 2009 they had several Team USA stars including Valerie Arioto and Jolene Henderson. Maybe it's that their postseason games were accessible on ESPNU and I wanted my Cal sports fill after just getting accepted. Yes, I've had several people do double takes this season when I told them I was attending a Cal softball game. Sometimes i'll watch a game and see what would be a routine groundout in baseball be a base hit, or see a silly fielding error and have the naysayers echo in my head. It matters not, I will always love this team. (Although to be fair, you can replace "Softball" with "Baseball", "Women's basketball" or "Men's soccer" or "Women's Gymnastics" and it will still pretty much be true. I'm all about the non-revenue sports... and well, the revenue ones too. But anyway, time for the recap!

THURSDAY: Cal 4, Stanford 1
FRIDAY: Cal 4, Stanford 3

The Bears hosted the rival Cardinal for the final series in the regular season. Stanford came in with the worst record in conference play, but the pesky Card always manage to find their way to torture the Bears in every single sport. This seemed to be the case on Thursday and Friday as Stanford's pitcher Kylie Sorenson stifled the Bears, holding them scoreless in 10 of the 12 innings she pitched. In addition, their first baseman Kayla Bonstrom led off the sixth inning of both games with a home run giving the Card a 1-0 lead both times. The only main difference was on Thursday it was given up by Katie Sutherland-Finch, and on Friday it was Stephanie Trzcinski.

Cal however was able to rally, finding success against Stanford reliever Erin Ashby on Thursday. The big hit was a two-out grand slam by freshmen Kobie Pettis which gave Cal the win. On Friday, Furd left in Sorenson this time, giving Cal a harder path to a comeback after Bonstrom's go-ahead homer. A rally appeared to fade after senior Breana Kostreba hit into a double play, but freshmen Taurie Pogue bailed her teammate out with a laser home run to give Cal a 2-1 lead. Stanford would not make it easy. After chasing Trzcinski, who had an otherwise solid day, it was Kayla Bonstrom again with a two-run double off Sutherland-Finch that scored Tylyn Wells and Sorenson and gave the bad guys the lead again. Magic happened again for Cal and it wasn't even that dramatic. Bailey O'Mara walked to start the inning and then Jazmin Jackson hit a double to set up first-and-third nobody out situation. Seniors Britt Vonk and Cheyenne Cordes did the rest, hitting a sac-fly and single respectively to give Cal the two runs they needed to win the game.

SATURDAY: Cal 11, Stanford 2 (5 innings)

No drama this time as the Bears kept their success against Sorenson going from the get go, scoring five runs in the first inning and saw all five seniors (Britt Vonk, Cheyenne Cordes, Mary Lee, Danielle Henderson, and Breana Kostreba) reach base by either a hit or walk. Erin Ashby fared no better, giving up two in the second (on yet another Kobie Pettis home run) and four in the fourth, allowing Cal to go for the mercy rule win in the fifth. Sophomore Katie Sutherland-Finch was able to secure the win.

Cal Softball End of the Season Celebration

I was honored to be able to attend Cal Softball's season ending banquet (because I... well... simply paid for a ticket on their website, only $20 though!) and it was pretty awesome to see all the seniors getting their recognition. I got to chill with one of the player's family members. There was as an awesome season highlight reel... and the food was amazing! Oh yeah, it was at the breathtaking University Club at Memorial Stadium... Here's a handful of pics from my Google Drive. I can post more in the comment section by request.




NCAA TOURNAMENT PREVIEW

Cal fans were hoping and expecting a solid draw for the Cal softball team, ranked No. 19 with a similar RPI rating. However Cal was given a very unfortunate draw in the NCAA tournament, pinned in a regional with one of the best teams in the country in Michigan. Cal's in the tournament after missing the tournament last year for the first time since 1986. Looking at the teams in, there are very few teams that weren't also in the tournament last season (Michigan's on a now 20th consecutive appearance) but two were are ending long droughts include the Ann Arbor regional's other squads, Pittsburgh (first time ever) and Oakland (first time since 2003).

Let's look at the teams they are in with. As of right now I know as much about the teams as most of you do. Let's learn together:

No. 3 Michigan (51-6) #1 Seed of Regional

Ranked 5 in RPI, this team looks like a very tough out. We've already seen Cal get walloped at now #2 Oregon while having a more respectable but still winless showing at now #7 UCLA. They are led by espnW's National Player of the Year Sierra Romero, a junior second baseman. She ended the regular season batting .469 with 20 home runs and 74 RBIs.

Pittsburgh (35-20) #3 Seed of Regional

Pittsburgh will be Cal (the two seed)'s first outing in the regional, and they do not seem like an easy out, despite having an RPI of 50. It should be noted that in the Pac-12, the only two teams with worse RPIs than 50 (actually a, worse RPI than Washington's 27) are Oregon State (58) and Stanford (91) and Cal went 5-1 against those teams. It would be shocking and devastating if Cal can't take care of business Friday, but I have a feeling it won't be a simple blowout.

Oakland (27-22) #4 Seed of Regional

Oakland (Michigan) received an automatic bid for winning the Horizon conference, and hold an RPI of 198. It seems reasonable to think that they aren't a threat. But who knows, they mind find this blog entry and hold it up on their locker rooms.

TV COVERAGE

All of the Ann Arbor regional games can be streamed online on WatchESPN/ESPN3 and on television on either ESPNU (Friday) or ESPN2 (were Cal to advance to Sunday's championship game), so follow along if you can. Make sure your TV providers carry ESPNU or call up local restaurants with the channel, because I doubt there's much else on at 12:30PM Friday afternoon.

REST OF THE PAC-12 and FUTURE OPPONENTS

Oregon, UCLA and Arizona are hosting regionals while Arizona State, Utah and Washington will play on the road like Cal. Oregon State and Stanford's seasons are over. (Washington State, USC and Colorado do not field softball teams) If Cal somehow wins the Ann Arbor Regional they would face the winner of the Athens, GA regional which does not carry a Pac-12 team. #14 Georgia, Central Connecticut State, North Carolina, and Western Kentucky would be the potential opponents. If Georgia is upset, there is a chance Cal could host a Super Regional but let's not look ahead. The only way Cal would see a Pac-12 foe would be to make the Women's College World Series.

Let's get this going and Go Bears! Next week I'll have a roundup of the regional win or lose.