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Cal Softball in NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional Preview and gamethreads

The Golden Bears are back in the NCAA postseason play. Can they make it out of the Alabama Regional?

The 2016 Cal Softball team is back in postseason play this weekend
The 2016 Cal Softball team is back in postseason play this weekend
Cal Softball Facebook

The Golden Bears are in the NCAA tournament for the 30th time in program history. After going to the Ann Arbor Regional in the last two postseason berths (in the past 3 years - yes, 2014 is such an aberration since it's the only season under Coach Diane Ninemire that the Bears did not go to the postseason), the Bears get to travel to Tuscaloosa, Alabama for the Regional this year.

Each of the regional is a double elimination tournament. Lose twice and you're out.

The 4 teams vying for a spot in the Super Regional are host Alabama (46-12, 17-8 in SEC) - No.6 seed in the country, Samford (40-18, 15-3 Southern Conference), Texas State from the Sun Belt, and our sturdy Golden Bears.

The winner of the Tuscaloosa Regional will play the winner of the Seattle Regional, headline by 11th seed Washington Huskies (the other teams are Weber State, North Dakota, and Minnesota) in the Super Regional for the right to advance to Oklahoma City for the College World Series.

The Golden Bears in this postseason will be led by senior Nisa Ontiveros, who finished Pac-12 play with the best ERA of 1.91. The Cal offense is lead by some speedsters at the top of the lineup in Jazmyn Jackson (0.376 BA) and Kylie Reed (0.407 BA), who led the Pac in hits. Freshman Lindsay Rood (0.375 BA) led the Pac in steals. As a team, the Bears hit 0.304 with an OBP of 0.370 and a slugging of 0.412. So plenty of speeds at the top with a little bit of pop from catcher Annie Aldrete (7 homers) and Taurie Pogue (6 homers).

Ontiveros and Jackson were named to the All Pac-12 first team. Reed and Rood (who are also the double play combo up the middle) were each named to the All Pac-12 second team.

Ontiveros describe this Cal team as "resilient". Which is perhaps also a good description of her. After several seasons, particularly the 2014 year when it had appeared that she was not only no Jolene Henderson, but also perhaps not capable of pitching in the very tough Pac-12 conference, I am very pleasantly surprised to see Nisa has such a great senior season.

4. What was your senior season like?
Unbelievable. It couldn't have gone any better. I'm so thankful I got to play the whole season and to have the season I had on top of it has been great.

14. What were the last three years like?
Difficult. There's been lots of adversity and ups and downs but I can't complain because it got me to my senior season and prepared me for the worst. I've been able to come out of it, so it's helped me.

Bears will open against Texas State - the runner-up at the Sun Belt Conference tournament. The ace for the Bobcats is Randi Rupp, who has a 29-12 record with 1.66 ERA and 316 K's on the season. Bobcats has a famous face as their pitching coach - Texas Longhorn legend and three time National Player of the Year in Cat Osterman - I am surprised that she couldn't find a higher profile job than Texas State (in case you're wondering, Texas State is in San Marcos, TX). The Bobcats hit 0.259 as a team this season, which is surprisingly low for a postseason bound team.

Should the Bears get past Texas State in game 1, they will likely face host Alabama - the 6th overall seed in the tournament.

Alabama hits 0.313 as a team with Haylie McCleney leading them with a batting average of 0.443. Leona Lafaele has 14 homers and 57 RBIs for them. The duo of Sydney Littlejohn and Alexis Osorio are the two main pitchers for the Crimson Tide. Littlejohn has a ERA of 2.28 while Osorio has 214 K's in 148 innings to go with a 2.84 ERA.

Samford Bulldogs earn the Southern Conference's automatic bid and have won 19 of their last 21 games (probably weak conference competitions). The Bulldogs hit 0.321 as a team. Mollie Hanson is their top pitcher with a 2.44 ERA.

Well, this is a much more favorable draw for the Bears than last season (Michigan ends up being the national runner-up). Should the Bears keep on fighting and show that resilience, a lucky break/bounce here or there and who knows how far the Bears can go in this offseason. Bears have found a way to earn some wins over some tough competitions - including wins of ranked teams in Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon State, Kentucky, and Notre Dame. Without it being a true series, maybe the Bears can surprise this weekend. We shall see (all the games are either on TV or streamed online by the ESPN family of networks).

Game 1: Cal Softball (31-22-1, 9-11-1 in Pac-12) vs. Texas State (39-20, 15-9 in Sun Belt)

When: 11:30 AM PT

TV/Online: WatchESPN

Bears win 1-0 behind a 2-hit shutout by Nisa Ontiveros. Bears didn't pull ahead until the 4th inning, cashing in on a Bobcat fielding error that allowed Rood to get to 3rd on a double. Aldrete brought Rood home with a sacrifice fly for the only run of the game.

CalBears.com Recap:

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - After a season in which she led the Pac-12 in ERA, Cal pitcher Nisa Ontiveros took the ball for the Bears' NCAA Regional opener against Texas State with another hurdle to clear in a year already filled with success.

The senior right-hander didn't disappoint, firing a two-hit shutout to make a single Cal run stand up as the Bears opened their stay in the Tuscaloosa Regional with a 1-0 victory over Texas State. With the victory, Cal advances into the opening game on Friday where the Bears will face the winner of Friday's game between Alabama and Samford. First pitch is set for 11:30 a.m. (PT).

As she has so often throughout the year, Ontiveros charted a course early for the path she would take throughout the game. She set down the first nine Bobcat hitters she faced in order, striking out five in the stretch to help Cal (32-22-1) get back into the dugout quickly.

In the fourth inning, the Bears gave their ace a lead to work with. Freshman Lindsay Rood got the inning started with a double and, when Texas State bobbled the ball in the outfield, the fleet-footed shortstop took advantage and moved to third. That brought Annie Aldrete to the plate and the junior took advantage of the situation, flying out to center field for a sacrifice fly that brought Rood home for the game's first run.

"When Rood hit the ball in the right-center gap, she's one of our fastest players so I knew she could easily get to third base," Cal head coach Diane Ninemire said. "Then, we had the right batter up with Annie because she's such a patient hitter. I knew she'd look for a pitch she could drive and she did her job. It doesn't take much of a fly ball for Rood to tag up on so we had the right combination up at the right time."

***********

Game 2: Cal Softball (32-22-1) vs. Alabama (47-12)

When: 11:30 AM PT

TV/Online: WatchESPN

Live Stat: Gametracker

Bears take on the host Crimson Tide on Saturday. Bama's Alexis Osorio tossed a two-hit shutout of her own to lead the Tide over the Samford Bulldogs via a 3-0 score. Haylie McCleney hit a two run homer while Kallie Chase hit a solo homer to provide the only scoring of the game.

The winner of the game between Cal and Alabama can rest until Sunday's Regional Championship game (first pitch scheduled for 11:30 AM PT). The loser will have to play the winner of the 2 pm PT elimination game between Texas State and Samford at 4:30 pm PT TODAY for a spot in the Regional Championship game tomorrow.

UPDATE: Bears had an early 1-0 lead on Bama but eventually lost 3-1. To stay alive, the Bears have to beat the winner of Texas State (who just eliminated Samford) at a game starting at 4:30 4:55 pm PT to play Alabama for the Regional title tomorrow (Bears would need to win two).

Game 3: Cal Softball (32-23-1, 9-11-1 in Pac-12) vs. Texas State (40-21, 15-9 in Sun Belt)

Bears edges Texas State by one run again.

Despite allowing the first two run lead (earned in the top of the first) to be lost, the Bears went ahead 4-2 on a clutch two out single by freshman stud Lindsay Rood. Texas State got one run back with a homer in the 6th, but that's all they got despite getting two on in the 7th. Cal senior Nisa Ontiveros has tossed every inning in this postseason for the Bears so far, she is expected to do this again on Sunday.

Bears will need to beat host and 6th seed Alabama Crimson Tide twice to advance. The first game is scheduled for 11:30 AM PT. CGB will have a fresh gamethread for Sunday's Regional Final action.

GO BEARS!