Softball Set to Start 2008 Campaign on Friday

Feb. 5, 2008

Berkeley - The California Golden Bear softball team opens the 2008 season this Friday in the Cathedral City Classic (hosted by Oregon State) in Palm Springs, Calif. The tournament runs Feb. 8-10. Cal tangles with UC Riverside at 1 p.m. to begin the season, before finishing the day against San Diego State at 8:30 p.m. The tournament concludes with Cal playing Mississippi State on Sunday at 9 a.m.

Quick Notes Heading into the '08 Season

- Cal has won 11 consecutive season openers (1997-2007)

- The Bears are a combined 32-5 all-time against the tournament field (5-0 against UC Riverside, 9-3 against San Diego State, 15-1 against New Mexico State and 3-1 against Mississippi State). Cal has never faced Winthrop

- Diane Ninemire is 11 victories away from No. 900

- Cal set a school record with 49 home runs in 2007, eclipsing the previous mark of 46 set in 2004. The Bears also established new single-season team records in runs scored (322) and RBI (278) in 2007

Season Preview

Thirty-four wins and a berth to the NCAA postseason would be considered a successful season for most softball programs. Then again, California is not 'most' softball programs. The Golden Bears will look to improve on its 2007 NCAA Regional appearance and focus on reclaiming their dominance on the national scene in 2008 with a stronger veteran presence and another potent offensive arsenal.

For head coach Diane Ninemire, who enters her 21st season at the helm, Cal has the tools in place to have a legitimate World Series run, but it will take a full team effort, both offensively and defensively. 'Our offense was one of the best we've ever had last season,' said Ninemire. 'We just couldn't get a complete game. I think that our pitching is getting stronger every day, and if we can get everything going at the same time, we will be a force to be reckoned with.'

Cal will have a steady mix of leadership this season, beginning with its three seniors - Julie Meyer, Katie Vickers and Erika Racklin. 'Julie will be behind the plate, managing the pitchers and assisting in calling the game and running the infield,' said Ninemire. 'Her experience of being the only current player in our program that has been to a World Series is invaluable. I'm looking forward to her having a stellar year and using her leadership to guide this team for another World Series run. Katie is an outstanding third baseman who brings a lot of leadership abilities. She will assist Julie as being our vocal leader in the infield. Erika will anchor center field and help guide our outfield. I feel we have good leadership in the infield and the outfield and these seniors will help our team get to where they need to be to make another championship run.'

Pitchers

The pitching staff will enjoy the advantage of having a year of experience under its belt. Cal returns sophomores Marissa Drewrey and Brittany LaRosa, while adding a potential young ace to the staff with freshman Valerie Arioto. Drewrey showed flashes of dominance last year with 11 wins and 71 strikeouts. Her best outing came in a complete game three-hit shutout in Cal's 1-0 win over No. 7 Arizona State. LaRosa got off to a productive start to the '07 campaign and finished the year with five wins in 86 innings of action. Arioto is one of Cal's most decorated incoming freshmen in recent memory. The Pleasanton product was named the East Bay Player of the Year and an EA Sports All-American her senior season.

'We have three pitchers that are all really different and can do a lot for this program,' said Ninemire. 'Marissa, who had an early season foot injury, had a good second half and we saw glimpses of her really coming out. I feel she has all of the tools to become a top NCAA pitcher. Now it's a matter of putting that whole package together. She is getting stronger every day. I think Marissa is gong to be a very different pitcher when she takes the mound in February.'

'Brittany has matured a lot. She is starting to find herself here and she is getting excellent movement on her pitches. She is also a very capable hitter. I think she is going to bring a lot of different things as a pitcher as well as a hitter.'

'Valerie is an excellent utility player who brings a lot of enthusiasm. She possesses a variety of pitches that keeps the batters off balance. We also have her playing some in right field. She will also be able to bring another bat to the table. I feel that all three are all well-rounded athletes, and all three will help this team down the stretch.'

Infield

Cal, which returns a good core of infielders this season, should be poised not only to have tremendous firepower in the lineup, but also have a steady defensive prowess to limit the opposition's attack. 'We have a lot of talent and depth in the infield,' said Ninemire. 'I feel comfortable and confident putting any one of those players in the lineup.'

At first base, Sanoe Kekahuna will be handling most of the duties, along with LaRosa. 'She adds a big stick in our lineup which will give us a lot of firepower,' Ninemire said of Kekahuna. As a senior, Kekahuna helped guide her team to a Hawaii State Championship and a Maui Interscholastic League Championship. She earned first-team all-state and all-league honors after producing a .688 batting average.

At second base, Vernae Sevilla showed the potential for a breakout sophomore campaign after producing a .241 batting average with 23 RBI and three home runs in 61 games last season. 'Vernae has excellent hands and brings punch to the lineup with her bat speed,' said Ninemire. 'She was real consistent for us last year and even had a couple of walk-off home runs. This year she is developing into more of a leader. She is starting to talk a lot more and she is starting to find her own voice. She is starting to become more comfortable in our system. Carrie Arth will be backing up Vernae. Carrie is a transfer from San Francisco State with good defensive skills and someone who has been improving her hitting every day.'

Returning to short stop is defensive standout Taylor Kelly. As a freshman, she had 66 putouts and 92 assists; to go along with five stolen bases and 17 runs. 'Taylor will be anchoring short stop again this season,' said Ninemire. 'She had an excellent ending to her season last year. She has a lot of range and her bat is improving day by day.'

At third base Vickers enjoyed a solid junior campaign, notching 37 RBI and a .244 batting average last season. 'Katie possesses a big punch in her bat,' said Ninemire. 'She brings a lot of vocal leadership to the line-up, and does a good job of keeping our team mentally in the game. Backing her up will be Lauren Bauer, a transfer from UC Riverside who brings a great bat and someone who can help this team.'

Junior Heather Camara will backup Meyer behind the plate.

Outfield

Two-thirds of Cal's returning outfield this season possesses speed and power with Rackin and Gina Leomiti. Blend in a freshman, sophomore and junior to the mix, and Cal has a formidable outfield for 2008. 'All five outfielders will help us this year and all are capable of producing big hits for us this season,' said Ninemire.

Handling the duties again in center field is the speedy and crafty Racklin. She enjoyed her best season in a Cal uniform in 2007, scoring 39 runs with 18 stolen bases. 'Erika is very quick and really gets a good jump on the ball.' Ninemire stated. 'She also has an accurate arm. We're thinking of batting her second in the lineup to help move runners around. She is someone who increased her consistency at the plate last season and her consistency as an outfielder.'

There is no doubt that Gina Leomiti had the breakout performance of the year in 2007. As a sophomore, she led the team with a .354 batting average, while generating 30 RBI and five home runs. 'Gina had an excellent season last year,' said Ninemire. 'She led our team in batting average and she had one of the most significant improvements in hitting from her freshman to sophomore year. This off-season she really improved her arm, and her bat is as good as ever. We are looking for her to produce a lot of RBIs for us.'

Ninemire will have options in right field this season with Arioto, sophomore Shannon Houston and junior Savannah Hensley. Last season Houston had 22 runs and 12 stolen bases in a pinch hitting role. 'We have a couple of choices for us in right field,' said Ninemire. 'Valerie is a freshman pitcher that can bring a big stick into the line-up. Shannon brings a little more speed and a consistent bat with a strong arm - so there will be a battle for that spot. When Valerie is pitching, we will have Shannon in right field. We also have Savannah, who has shown great improvement with her bat in the fall.'

Filling the utility position will be sophomore Bernice Masaniai. Another talented bat in the Cal lineup, Masaniai hit .289 with 10 home runs and 35 RBI last season. 'Bernice brings a very big bat,' said Ninemire. 'She had a great fall season and she can drive the ball anywhere on the field. Her RBI production should be very high as well this season.'

One staple with the Cal program has always been the consistently tough non-conference schedules before a grind it out grueling Pac-10 slate. The Bears this season face perennial powers such as Northwestern, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Hawaii, Mississippi State and Nebraska, before opening conference play at home versus Arizona State on March 28. The season begins on February 8 at the Palm Springs Classic.

There is little doubt that Cal has the talent to make a deep run in the NCAA postseason. If the Bears can put together a complete game - offensively and defensively - on a consistent basis, Cal will ultimately leave its footprint on the Pac-10 and the country.

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