The distance between top-seeded Cal and No. 16 Washington appears large entering Saturday’s NCAA super regional softball opener at Levine-Fricke Field. Coach Diane Ninemire knows that isn’t the case.
The Bears are 54-5, having won the Pac-12 title and finished the season atop both national polls for seven consecutive weeks. The Huskies are 39-17, eighth-place finishers in the conference.
But when Cal and UW faced off for the first time this season two months ago in Berkeley, everything still was up for grabs.
The Bears were No. 1 nationally, but the Huskies were close behind at No. 3, boasting a 32-1 record and looking every bit a contender for the Pac-12 crown.
Then Cal pulled off a three-game sweep, sending Washington’s season spiraling in the wrong direction, losing 15 of its next 18.
But it could have been different.
Cal won the first game in that series only when senior Jace Williams delivered a two-run, two-out single in the bottom of the seventh inning for a 2-1 victory.
“Absolutely, we could have lost that game,” Ninemire said. “It was also a very big turning point for our team. It built our confidence that we could come from behind against a very good team.
“It was a great moment for our program. It really inspired our team to know we could be behind a quality team and find a way to win at the end.”
The Bears called on that confidence last weekend in the Berkeley regional after losing 3-2 to Arkansas in the second round. With no margin for error, Cal won three straight games — including twice on Sunday against Arkansas — to keep its season alive.
Ninemire said the Huskies will provide the Bears great competition this weekend. Game one in the best-of-three series is Saturday at 7 p.m. The teams meet again Sunday at 4 p.m. with a third game, if necessary, at 6:30 p.m.
All three will be shown on ESPN2.
“They’re very quality team. They’ve had some great wins as well,” Ninemire said. “It’s going to be two great teams.”
The Huskies won three times by shutout at the Seattle regional, using three different pitchers. Ninemire said she isn’t sure who Washington will use in the first game and wouldn’t tip her hand about her own pitcher, either. But ace Jolene Henderson seems likely to get the call after compiling an 0.71 earned run average in the Berkeley regional.
Ninemire said the Bears are more determined than ever to advance to their 12th College World Series. The loss to Arkansas only fueled their ambition.
“The good thing is the team didn’t panic,” she said. “They beleived all along they could win. There really wasn’t any doubt in their mind when they came to the field Sunday.”