2003 Cal Softball Outlook
Jan. 14, 2003
After earning its 17th straight NCAA Tournament bid, and fourth consecutive and seventh overall appearance in the Women's College World Series last year, the California softball team finds itself in an unfamiliar position in 2003. For the first time in their history, the Golden Bears will be trying to repeat as National Champions.
Completing a storybook season that ended with a 6-0 national title win over Arizona, Cal's softball club claimed the first NCAA title in the school's women's sports history. In 2003, head coach Diane Ninemire and the Bears face the challenge of defending that crown.
Losing two All-Americans to graduation in pitcher Jocelyn Forest and third baseman Candace Harper, Cal will rely on seven returning starters and six newcomers to blend together in hopes of another National Championship team.
The Bears add two left-handers and plenty of speed to the line-up this season. After posting a 56-19 overall record last year, a young squad faces the daunting task of continuing the longest consecutive postseason appearance streak by a Pac-10 school.
'We brought in some really talented players,' said Ninemire. 'We have more speed this year than we've ever had. That will give us more opportunities to steal, forcing errors by putting more pressure on the defense. We have more of a balanced attack this season, combining speed and power.'
Once more, Cal's schedule is anything but easy. After seven home games to start the 2003 campaign, the Bears hit the road for six straight weekend tournaments, expecting over 30 games in the span.
Cal will immediately be tested, with the chance of facing all but one of the seven 2002 WCWS opponents (Arizona) within the first month of scheduled play, and 26 of the 48 teams that advanced to last year's NCAA Regionals.
Last season the Bears improved their conference slate, compiling a 12-9 mark for fourth place, its highest showing since taking fourth in 1998. Coach Ninemire is counting on another top finish as she enters her 16th year at the helm for the Bears.
'We'll have to play the same type of defense as we did last year, which was the most spectacular, stingy defense in Cal history,' said Ninemire. 'We're going to have to score a lot of runs and come up with timely hits.'
For the past four years, Ninemire handed the ball to Jocelyn Forest, the 2002 WCWS Most Outstanding Player, to pitch a season's worth of complete games. This year, Ninemire is faced with a new strategy and will have to combine the experience of three returnees and two freshmen to steer the way.
'We have five pitchers, we have a pitching staff,' said Ninemire. 'And that's what it's going to take in order for us to be successful this year. We'll have to mix things up. All five are different. Together, they're going to have to be a team within a team, working together diligently. They're going to have to keep the hitters off balance.'
Jen Deering, a senior right-hander, returns as the most experienced pitcher. Last season, Deering made 24 appearances, notching a 2.45 ERA and 13-3 record, including three shutouts and eight complete games.
'Jen had some good games last year and now that she's a senior, she realizes that the team is really counting on her,' said Ninemire. 'I think she's ready to step up to the challenge. I perceive her being a main pitcher and coming through for us.'
Two right-handed sophomores, Cassie Bobrow and Kelly Anderson, complete the returning rotation. Bobrow made 19 appearances in her rookie year, posting a 1.06 ERA and 7-1 mark, including eight complete games.
'Bobrow threw some great innings last year,' said Ninemire. 'She's good for four or five innings and then we'll probably bring someone in for two or three innings to clean up the game.'
Earning a 1.46 ERA in 18 appearances and 62.1 innings last season, Anderson returns polished, after working hard on her pitches throughout the summer and fall season.
Expecting to aid the pitching staff are highly touted freshmen Chanel Tripp and Kristina Thorson. Tripp helped lead her ASA club team, the O.C. Batbusters, to the 2002 18 under Gold National title. Thorson recorded over 800 strikeouts between her sophomore and senior seasons at Shorecrest High, including three perfect games, for an overall ERA of 0.19.
The Cal infield will be strong again in 2003, returning starters at catcher, first base, second base and shortstop.
Manning the catching duties will be second team All-Pac-10 selection Courtney Scott. Scott returns after a top-notch junior season, including a personal best .301 batting average, while starting in all 75 games with a team-leading 46 RBI. Besides an outstanding offensive performance, Scott was a brick wall behind the plate, committing just one error in 575 chances. Look for Scott to solidify the fifth slot in the line-up.
'Courtney is one of the finest catchers in the country,' said Ninemire. 'She'll be a solid performer behind the plate for us and an excellent mentor for (freshman) Haley Woods. I'm hoping she'll come back and have a stellar year like she did last year.'
Woods, a freshman from Burlingame, should see ample playing time for the National Champions at catcher, first base or as the designated player. The four-time first team all-leaguer compiled a .552 batting average throughout high school and is expected to add power to the line-up.
The most feared batter in the NCAA, clean-up hitter Veronica Nelson, looks to dominate in her senior season, at either first base or as the designated player. In her three years, Nelson has collected 288 walks, including a NCAA record 108 single season walks in 2002. The All-American returns after a team-leading .329 batting average and .559 slugging percentage as a junior, where she was also named to the NCAA Regional and World Series All-Tournament teams.
'It's frustrating,' said Ninemire about Nelson's frequent walks. 'But we'll take the free base. If a team walks her, they have the team RBI-leader up behind her (Courtney Scott). She has a good eye and rarely swings at a poor pitch. If a team gives her a hittable pitch, there's a good chance it's gone or at least will go through the infield.'
Cal will be solid up the middle again this year, returning sophomores Jessica Pamanian at second and Chelsea Spencer at shortstop. Pamanian, who committed just four errors in her freshman season, started all 75 games, produced a .279 batting average, knocked in 37 RBI and tested her power with three homeruns.
Spencer, the day-to-day shortstop, stepped up at the World Series, hitting .308 (second best on the team and .58 points above her season average).
Junior Eryn Manahan will reinforce Pamanian at second, having two years under her belt at the position. Out last season due to a back injury, Manahan's return extends the Bears' offensive capabilities, as she lashed out a .279 career average in her first two years at Cal, including seven home runs and 20 doubles. If Manahan gets back her full range of motion, her bat will find a spot in the line-up.
Galindo, a sophomore transfer from West Valley J.C., appears to be the best prospect for the job. She was an All-American third baseman during her first year at West Valley, with an eye-popping .510 batting average.
'Vicky is a slap hitter with a lot of speed,' said Ninemire. 'She can also play second and short and will help us in many different ways.'
Vernaglia appeared in 53 games in 2002, gathering a .220 average as a freshman, and is expected to be a contender for the open third base position along with Pedretti, who is coming off her junior campaign as the starting designated player.
Eldredge, a second-team All-Pacific region and All-Pac-10 selection, batted .299 as a freshman. She accumulated 47 runs scored, including the game-winning run in the championship game of the World Series versus Arizona, giving the Bears an unrelinquished 1-0 lead in the top of the seventh inning.
'Kaleo had a stellar year last year,' said Ninemire. 'She worked extremely hard over the summer to improve her running skills and has come back faster and quicker. She is a key person in the outfield this season with one year under her belt.'
At right, Morley returns after leading the conference in sacrifice bunts and hits (25). Morley will maximize her short game hitting in either the second or ninth spot.
'Morley will add great leadership in the outfield,' said Ninemire. 'She's always been a tough cookie and comes through when we need her the most.'
Bayless concluded last season with two spectacular catches versus Fresno State in the first round of the regionals to preserve Cal's 2-1 lead. She will bat in the second half of the order.
'Kristen probably possess one of the most accurate arms of all our outfielders,' said Ninemire.
Freshman LeAnna Hoglen showed promise during the fall season, and should add speed to the outfield, seeing some action in right field.
Adding depth to left and center will be freshman Lindsay James, a first team all-county member from San Carlos, CA.
'James has terrific speed, is a great slapper and an outstanding player,' said Ninemire.
Linzi Wescott, a sophomore transfer from New Mexico State, is a versatile outfielder and adds a left-handed bat and speed to the line-up. At New Mexico, Wescott went 10-for-18 in stolen bases while hitting .232.