2002 Softball Outlook
Jan. 30, 2002
BERKELEY - After posting three consecutive trips to the College World Series, California softball looks to prolong another streak this season that no other team in the Pac-10 Conference has ever achieved. The Golden Bears look to extend their consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance to a 17th time this spring and in 2002, Cal again has the personnel and talent to attain that landmark.
The Bears return eight players from last season's squad that finished fifth in the College World Series and collected a school record 54 wins, including first team All-Pac-10 selections senior Jocelyn Forest and junior Veronica Nelson. Forest and Nelson were also picked second and first team All-America, respectively, and are the first players in school history to return to the team after garnering such honors from the previous season.
'This is a very evenly matched team with 10 newcomers and eight returnees,' said head coach Diane Ninemire, who is in her 15th season at the helm of the Bears' program. 'So we still have a wealth of experience returning from the World Series. And Jocelyn Forest and Candace Harper, all they've ever known as players is to go to the World Series. So it's nice to actually have someone on your team like that. The expectations every year now is for us to go to the World Series and view it as something that Cal softball just does.'
Like any other year for the Bears, a rough, long schedule awaits them this season. After a grueling non-conference slate that includes seven weekend tournaments in consecutive weeks, Cal faces a gauntlet that is called the Pac-10 Conference.
'We're going to be playing in some high quality tournaments that will be against top quality teams outside of our region and our conference,' said Ninemire. 'We use that as a base to get ourselves prepared for our conference. Our goal this year is to make great strides in our Pac-10 competition. The last few years, we've just not been satisfied with where we ended up in the Pac-10.'
The season starts off at home for the Bears when they host Sacramento State Feb. 2, but from there, Cal will be on the road with a non-conference game at Pacific, and a series of tournaments throughout the western region of the United States.
Last year, Cal jumped out to its best start in school history with a 32-0 record. The Bears hope that they can duplicate those fortunes again this year.
Cal's first league contest is set for Mar. 29 when it battles arch-rival Stanford, which ousted the Bears in a 1-0 decision, at the College World Series last May. Ninemire believes that doing well in conference-play bodes well for Cal's postseason aspirations.
'You know that if you can win the Pac-10, or be a contender for the conference championship, you have confidence that you can win the national championship because the national title, most of the time, comes out of the Pac-10.'
Below is a position-by-position look at the 2002 Cal softball team.
With the ace of the staff, Jocelyn Forest, back for her senior campaign, the Bears boast a solid pitching staff. The biggest challenge for Ninemire, perhaps, will be to replace the graduated Nicole DiSalvio, who appeared in 37 games and recorded a 21-8 record and a 0.93 ERA. Junior Jennifer Deering, who also played basketball for Cal the last two years, returns this season focusing all her attention to softball, and hopes to fill the void left by DiSalvio. Highly recruited freshman Kelly Anderson is also expected to contribute right away.
'Kelly has a good variety of pitches to offer,' said Ninemire. 'We really look forward to her stepping in as a freshman and pitching against some of our top opponents and being a factor this year on our staff.'
Another freshman addition is Cassie Bobrow, who Ninemire says will be crucial during the gruesome non-conference tournament stretch when rest for pitchers will be at a premium.
Forest, a second team All-America and first team All-Pac-10 selection last season, moved into fifth place all-time in career wins tallying 74 through last season. The Santa Maria native is also fourth all-time in most games played (126) and third in strikeouts (824). Hampered by a hip injury for most of her sophomore season, Forest came back as a durable junior and tore through the competition with 364 strikeouts in 255 innings.
Deering pitched just 42 innings in 2001 because of the depth that Cal carried in the circle. The junior right hander fared well when the opportunity presented itself as she went 4-1 last year, including a big conference win over Washington Apr. 29, 6-3.
'Jen is a pitcher that has a lot of potential and I think that she's really coming into her own,' says Ninemire. 'This year she's come in really focused and determined to work on her pitching and her overall conditioning and we look for her to really be a presence out there.'
Cal loses just one player from the infield - Paige Bowie, who anchored the shortstop position for the Bears last year. Filling her place this season is Chelsea Spencer, one of Ninemire's most prized recruits in recent years. At first base and hitting clean-up is 2001 first team All-American Veronica Nelson. The junior first baseman from Oakland is an intimidating presence in the batters box and has drawn 180 walks in her career, just 31 shy of the NCAA career walk record. Nelson posted 93 base on balls in 2001 alone, but still managed to blast a school-record 19 homeruns in 150 at bats. In addition, she also led the squad in RBI (52) and batting average (.353).
'She is someone that a lot of opponents fear at the plate,' said Ninemire. 'She's our clean up hitter and we look forward to her having another great year offensively.'
At second base, junior Eryn Manahan comes back for her second year at the position. A middle infielder, who possesses a combination of great hands and range, Manahan has really improved her hitting. The Tustin native was fourth on the team in batting with a .304 average and first in hits with 70, but she brings another dimension to the team this season.
'Along with her dependable defense, I think Eryn is also coming into her own with leadership,' said Ninemire. 'Those things will definitely be a benefit to our infield.'
Although just a freshman, Spencer has quickness, a good arm and an enthusiasm that is contagious to teammates on the field.
'She's an outstanding shortstop,' Ninemire remarked. 'I think in my mind, she has the potential to be one of the best shortstops that Cal has ever had as far as a true shortstop. Between her and Eryn (Manahan), we're going to be really great up the middle for probably the first time in Cal's softball program.'
At the hot corner is third-year starter and 2001 first team All-Pac-10 selection Candace Harper. A steady ballplayer on defense with a team high 112 assists, Harper has also developed into one of Cal's most reliable hitters posting the third best batting average on the team (.305) and second best in hits (67).
Behind the plate is durable defensive specialist Courtney Scott, who started 71 of 72 games and threw out 48 base stealers in 2001. Scott has been tabbed a starter since her first collegiate game and has a good rapport with the pitching staff.
Junior transfer Roni Rodrigues has the ability to play the corner positions while Kristen Bayless will back up Scott behind the plate in addition to playing outfield. Both players bringing added depth to the infield.
Only right fielder Kristin Morley returns with the graduation of center fielder Amber Phillips and left fielder Pauline Duenas. Morley is a steady hitter, who works the count and possesses a great short game. With the exception of Morley, the theme of this year's outfield is youth. Freshman Kaleo Eldredge, who has a similar game to Phillips, has a great arm and range who in Ninemire's words, 'flat out hustles' for the ball. Offensively, Eldredge brings a much-coveted left-handed bat into the lineup.
'Kaleo can hit for power and can also double ball on a dime,' said Ninemire. 'She's also a base threat with her speed. She has the whole package.'
In left field, freshman Jessica Pamanian will get the starting nod. The Milpitas native has similar characteristics to Eldredge as she also has a cannon arm and good range, along with a good bat. According to Ninemire, Pamanian will also get starting assignments at second base. Junior Mikella Pedretti, will see time in all three outfield positions. Freshmen Jessica Vernaglia, who will also play first base, and LeAnna Hoglen are versatile utility players that will contribute in the outfield.