The top-ranked, top-seeded Cal softball team (50-4) takes its first step toward a return trip to the College World Series when it plays host to Iona (35-24) on Friday at 7 p.m.
Boston U (40-12) and Arkansas (27-26) duel in the 5 p.m. game at Levine-Fricke Field.
The double-elimination event runs through Sunday. If Cal wins, it will host the Super Regionals for a best-of-three series with a bid to the CWS on the line.
Cal vs. Iona figures to be a mismatch. The Bears outhit the Gaels .320 to .267, outscore them .680 runs per game to 3.32 and outslug them 1.35 home runs per game to 0.44.
The Bears boast the nation’s No. 1 RPI. Iona is No. 163, according to the computer.
If the Gaels have a chance it’s with their pitching. They boast a 1.35 team earned run average, sixth-best in the country. Cal is third at 1.27.
Senior Alyssa Maiese is 17-10 with a 1.25 ERA and was the MAAC co-Player of the Year. Senior Sarah Jackson is 17-12 with a 1.26 ERA and was conference Pitcher of the Year. But the Gaels have been shut out 10 times this season.
Iona’s second-year coach, Roni Rivera, is a 2003 graduate of Santa Clara.
My pick: Cal 8, Iona 0.
— All-Pacific Regional team: Cal placed four players — first baseman/pitcher Valerie Arioto, third baseman Danielle Henderson, pitcher Jolene Henderson and left fielder Jamia Reid — on the All-Pacific Region first team, the National Fastpitch Coaches Association announced.