Softball: Bears rout Arkansas, force final

Cal softball remains alive.

Senior Frani Echavarria capped a 4-for-4 performance with a grand slam in the fifth inning and the top-seeded Cal softball team beat Arkansas 10-2 on Sunday evening to force a winner-take-all showdown for the NCAA Berkeley regional title.

The teams were scheduled to play again Sunday, beginning at about 7:10 p.m., with the winner advancing to next week’s Super Regional.

Cal (53-5), which lost 3-2 to the Razorbacks (29-27) in Saturday’s winners-bracket semifinal, never trailed in the rematch.

Echavarria, who also had a single and two doubles, was greeted by the Levine-Fricke Field crowd with a chant of “Hip, hip Frani,” a nod to Cal basketball star Jorge Gutierrez, her boyfriend.

Jolene Henderson (33-2) struck out the side in the fifth inning to end the game as the “mercy” rule was invoked.

Cal drew first blood with three runs in the second inning.

Victoria Jones and Jamia Reid each singled before Britt Vonk laid down a two-out bunt. She outran the throw, which bounced away, allowing both Jones to score.

Arkansas starter Hope McLemore — pitching just her fifth game of the season — then intentionally walked Pac-12 Player of the Year Val Arioto, loading the bases. Echavarria responded with a two-run double to right-center for a 3-0 lead.

But Arkansas cut the margin to a single run in the third inning when Tori Mort beat out an infield hit before SEC Freshman of the Year Devon Wallace drilled a 2-run homer to center.

The Bears answered with three runs in the top of the fourth for a 6-2 lead. Arioto walked to open the inning — her 10th in 14 regional plate appearances — before Echavarria doubled for the second time. Arioto scored on a groundout by Jace Williams, then freshman Danielle Henderson blasted a two-run homer to right.

Jeff Faraudo