In front of a packed and excited Levine-Fricke Field crowd, the #1-ranked Cal softball squad thrilled the hometown fans in Strawberry Canyon with a stirring, 4-2 come-from-behind win over the 2nd-ranked Arizona State Sun Devils on Wednesday in Berkeley.
Up until the 6th inning, Sun Devil pitcher Dallas Escobedo held the Bears in check, giving up only four hits and no runs through the first five innings. But the Bears were patient in the 6th, scoring two runs to tie it going into the 7th on two bases-loaded walks to winning pitcher Jolene Henderson (30-0) and Victoria Jones, setting up senior Player of the Year candidate Val Arioto's opportunity to win the game with a dramatic, 2-run 7th inning blast over the right field wall to lead the 49-3/20-2 Bears to victory over the 45-6/17-3 Sun Devils.
it's been a magical season for the Bears, who have won with devastating consistency, at home and on the road, against top competition all year.
"We're playing in the #1 conference in the country," said Cal head coach Diane Ninemire. "These kids are coming out here and playing the best teams in the country and this is truly preparing us for the postseason.
"There won't be anything we haven't seen before when we get to the postseason. This championship-type game like we played today will be what you'll see in the regionals and in the College World Series."
The Bears last season overcame the devastating loss of senior Arioto prior to their season but used timely hitting and the workhorse arm of Jolene Henderson to get back to the College World Series for the first time in six years. But where last year's team was lacking, this year's team more than makes up for it, with the devastating 1-2 punch of Henderson and Arioto on the mound, as well as the consistency and power (.400 avg, with 22 hr) from Arioto, good speed and an impressive team batting average of .321 on the season.
"This team's the total package," said Ninemire. "It's balanced, with speed, power, great pitching and great defense.
"We have all things going this year. Last year, we had about three players that hit consistently and one great pitcher. They did a great job just getting to the College World Series.
"But now I feel like we have all the pieces we really need and if we just keep our will really strong, we've got a shot to go a long way this year."
Ninemire build on last season's success to bring in a top-flight recruiting class in 2012 and is well on the way to continuing to stockpile talent in Berkeley this season, as well.
"Absolutely," said Ninemire. "We're continuing to bring in top kids who want to play for the #1 school in the country for academics that also want to be in a program that can win a national championship.
"This is the only place where you can be #1 in academics and #1 in athletics."
To view postgame comments from Ninemire and Arioto, use the links below:
Cal head coach Diane Ninemire:
Cal senior pitcher Val Arioto: