Despite some sloppy early fielding that lead to two unearned runs (in the 1st and 2nd innings), Cal Softball had a relatively easy victory on Friday to open the Auburn Regional. Bears twice fell behind Notre Dame by a run but was able to pull ahead for good with 3 two-out runs in the bottom of the 4th, including a big two-run homer to straight center by Jazmyn Jackson.
Zoe Conley was masterful after the first two innings, having 4 straight 1-2-3 innings from the 3rd through the 6th innings. She went the complete game and got 7 K’s on the game.
Cal will next play the winner between Auburn and East Tennessee State (does anyone think ETSU have a chance later today?) at 11:30 AM PT tomorrow. A win will put the Bears straight through to Sunday’s Regional Final. A loss would mean a second game at 3:30 PM PT tomorrow against the winner between Notre Dame and the loser of Auburn/ETSU.
ROLL ON YOU BEARS!
For the second consecutive year, the California Golden Bears (30-22, 6-17 in Pac-12) are dancing (both literally and figuratively) in the state of Alabama. Cal were playing in the Tuscaloosa Regional last year, losing twice to host Alabama after defeating Texas State twice. This year, they will play at the other SEC team based out of the state of Alabama, at the home of the Auburn Tigers. Oh, the Auburn Tigers are the national runner-ups from an year ago and returned a lot of those players - but we will get to them in a bit.
The 2017 Cal Bears team is a very active group; they love to dance in the dugout and even on the bases. Being very athletic and active is also the calling card of the Cal success this season. Lacking true sluggers, the Golden Bears are a collection of slap hitters that will manufacture runs with their speed after putting the balls in play.
The best hitter for the Bears is probably 3rd baseman Jazmyn Jackson (0.406 OBP), who was hitting 3rd in the lineup at the beginning of the year but switched to the leadoff position. Jackson led the Pac in doubles. Sophomore short stop Lindsay Rood (0.413 OBP) and senior 2nd baseman Kylie Reed (team best 0.329 batting average but merely a 0.346 OBP) are the two fellow Golden Bears that are good at reach bases due to their speed. Ninemire went with these three at the top of the lineup at the beginning of the year, since then Jackson switched from 3rd to 1st and Rood went from 2nd to 5th.
In the middle of the lineup for the Bears are 1st baseman Kolbie Pettis (4th best batting average on the team at 0.278) and catcher Annie Aldrete (team high 3 homers...tie with Rood). Multiple players in the Pac has personally hit more homers as an individual than the Bears combined as a team (11 total). On the other hand, the Bears don’t strike out that much as a team because they like to put the ball in play.
The other Cal starters are senior Khala Taylor in left field. Taurie Pogue is sometimes the designated player (I never understood why it’s not just called designated hitter like in baseball). Octavia Bond in right field and Krysten McCue in center. Freshman Bradie Fillmore is also in the mix for an outfield start from time to time.
By the way, Cal’s speed manifest itself more in taking the extra base than straight up steals. Rood and Taylor are co-leader with just 11 stolen bases. Then again, everyone on the roster is probably capable of stealing a base, if needed.
Bears are back in the NCAA postseason for the 31st time in program history, all under current head coach Diane Ninemire in her 32 years in charge of the program. In the SF Chronicle article, Ninemire mentioned how the Bears’ lone NCAA championship back in 2002 came after a 4th place Pac-10 finish and was a surprise. In 2002, Cal pitcher Jocelyn Forest got hot at just the right time and pitched every inning of that postseason to carry the team to the program’s first NCAA title (and Cal Athletics’ first women’s sport title). Forest’s extraordinary effort came mere weeks after her older sister was brutally murdered by her estranged husband. Forest’s College World Series performance was ranked 7th overall in a 2012 ESPN article on the top moments in Women’s College World Series history.
Anyhow, NCAA Softball postseason format change has now made it nearly impossible to get through the postseason with just one pitcher. Nonetheless, that one ace is still pivotal to a team’s postseason success. That ace for the California Golden Bears may be Zoe Conley.
Redshirt sophomore Zoe Conley pitched a team high 200 and 1/3 innings (about two third of the season total). Despite her diminutive size (maybe not even the listed 5 foot), Conley’s pitches are deceptive to cause weak contacts. She struck out 145 batters while walking 88 (which is a little bit high for my liking). On the season, Conley has a record of 19-13 with 3 saves; her ERA is 2.80.
Behind Zoe Conley, Bears have two seniors with some postseason experiences in Katie Sutherland-Finch (team best 2.32 ERA) and Stephanie Trzcinski (3.50 ERA and the other 2 saves for the Bears). We will likely see them either in relief today or start one of the game tomorrow, if the Bears have to play two games.
As a staff, the Bears pitching also doesn’t strike out batters that much. Instead, they use the fairly good defense (speed is an asset on defense, of course) behind them.
SUMMARY: The 2017 Golden Bears are a lively bunch that is very loose on the field, yet very good at applying pressures to their opponents via their speed. Without that much power in the lineup (though the potential is still there), Bears likely would need to manufacture runs. On the other hand, Cal’s athleticism and speed is very useful in defense where they play behind pitchers who more or less pitch to contact. The one thing that you can count on in a Cal Softball game is seeing the team having fun, regardless of the results.
Quick look at the other three teams in this regional:
The Fighting Irish (32-22, 13-11 in ACC) finished 5th in the ACC. 5 players have a batting average over 0.300, including Ali Wester at 0.406. Ali’s older sister Karley Wester has 30 stolen bases out of 35 attempts.
Bears will likely face Rachel Nasland today. Nasland has thrown 172.1 innings to go with just 106 strikeouts with a record of 16-10 and an ERA of 3.57.
Host Auburn Tigers are the 7th seed in the tournament but 3rd in the RPI. They are the national runner ups from an year ago and finished 2nd in the extremely tough SEC this year (behind Florida) where all 13 teams made the postseason.
Auburn is a fairly loaded team. They hit 47 homers while allowing just 16. The entire lineup up and down is very solid.
However, the key for their success (and for another long postseason run) is a duo of aces inside the circle. Kaylee Carlson has an ERA of 1.14 to go with a 26-4 record; Carlson has 110 K’s in 190.1 innings. Makayla Martin is also very good with an ERA of 1.99 and an 18-5 record; she has 94 K’s in 137.1 innings.
EAST TENNESSEE STATE
The Bucs are the winner of the Southern league. They hit 34 homers on the year but against subpar competitions.
Game 1: Cal Softball (30-22) vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (32-22)
Where: Jane B. Moore Field (Auburn, AL)
When: 11 AM PT
Win or lose, the Bears will play their next game on Saturday. If the Bears win today, they will play at 11:30 AM PT on Saturday. If they lose, they will play at 1 PM PT on Saturday. A potential second game on Saturday (if the Bears goes 1-1 in the first two games) would be at 3:30 PM PT.
All the NCAA Women’s Softball games this year will be broadcasted live on the ESPN family of networks (and not just streamed like in the past years). Exact details are TBD, however.