The softball team will start the NCAA Softball Regional in Ann Arbor at 4:30 p.m. Friday against California.
While Michigan’s Alumni Field is no mystery to the Chippewas, the Golden Bears are.
The first thing to know about Cal is its pitching staff.
The Golden Bears are equipped with All-American senior pitcher Jolene Henderson, who is 30-9 this season with a 1.23 ERA and is up for the National Player of the Year award.
On April 21, Henderson suffered a leg injury, and the team then lost nine-straight before Henderson threw a complete game to end the regular season on Saturday. After Henderson, the pitching staff is 6-8 with a 6.46 ERA. But, Henderson does seem to be back to full-strength.
At the plate this year, Cal, which finished fifth in the Pac-12, struggled. The team combined for a .267 batting average, which was worst in the conference. The team is led by freshman Khala Taylor, who leads off with an average of .342 and is a threat once she is on base, with 13 stolen bases in 16 attempts. Sophomores Cheyenne Cordes (.327) and Danielle Henderson (.287) round out the top three in batting average on the team, and they supply some power with nine home runs a piece.
The Golden Bears do supply their fair share of power. They rank fifth in the Pac-12 in home runs with 59, led by senior Lindsey Ziegenhirt, who has 16 homers, and junior Victoria Jones with 10.
As is often the case in softball, as Cal’s home run numbers have risen, so have their strikeout totals. The team struck out 274 times this season, more than any other team in the Pac-12.
Despite those numbers, the Golden Bears are in the tournament as an at-large bid for a reason. The Pac-12 is one of the toughest conferences in the nation, with eight of its nine teams in the tournament and three of those teams ranked in the top-16 and hosting its respective regional.
In the non-conference season, Cal went an impressive 24-3 under 26-year head coach Diane Ninemire, who is 1,153-532 all-time. She has led her team to 12 Women’s College World Series trips, three title game appearances and a national championship in 2002.