Softball Shooting for Third Consecutive Trip to the World Series
This goal is simple: a third consecutive trip to the College World Series.
Following back-to-back appearances in softball's ultimate venue, California enters the 2001 season eager to maintain its high standard of excellence. The Golden Bears return all but one starter from last year's team, and head coach Diane Ninemire has the squad focused and ready to make the goal a reality.
'We have veteran team this year,' said Ninemire who is in her 14th season as the head coach of the Bears. 'We are solid from 1-9, and this is the first time that we have had such depth in our pitching staff. We have four outstanding pitchers that we can go to at any time. There shouldn't be many surprises since everyone knows where they fit on this team. They know where they fall in the lineup, and they know their respective roles.'
Even with such depth on the 2001 squad, the wins are not gong to come easily.
'We are playing one of the toughest schedules in the country,' Ninemire said. 'We play anyone and everyone this year, and that makes it hard. We play in many of the elite tournaments before conference action even begins, and then have to go right into Pac-10 games.'
The schedule has Cal traveling to Georgia twice, the first time for the elite 24-team NFCA Leadoff Classic in Columbus, and the other for the Georgia Tech Buzz Classic in Atlanta. The Bears also make trips to Las Vegas for the UNLV Tournament, Fullerton (Easton Showcase Tournament), Sacramento, (Capital Classic) and finally back to Sunnyvale, (National Invitation Softball Tournament).
Last season, the Bears finished with a 49-25 record, beating Fresno State in the NCAA regional final to earn a spot in the World Series. Unfortunately, Cal dropped its first two games in Oklahoma City to make an early departure from the tournament. Still, the Bears ended the year ranked seventh in the country.
The biggest task for Ninemire this season will be to replace Lisa Iancin, a four-year starter at second base and first team All-Pac-10 selection. Even without her in the lineup for the upcoming season, Cal still manages to return five players who garnered postseason honors. Paige Bowie, the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA regional, returns for her senior season, along with pitchers Jocelyn Forest and Nicole DiSalvio, who were also on the regional all-tournament team. Third baseman Candice Harper, who earned second team All-Pac-10 and All-Pacific Region honors, returns for her junior campaign. Last season's freshman sensation, Veronica Nelson, was voted honorable mention All-Pac-10 on her way to shattering the NCAA season walk record (87) and the Cal season home run record (14).
Below is a position-by-position look at the 2001 Cal softball team.
Adding to the mix of quality pitchers is sophomore Kourtney Davis, who transferred from the 2000 NCAA champion Oklahoma. Cal recruited Davis, a native of Reno, Nev., out of high school, where she was a prep All-American, but she chose to attend Oklahoma instead. This season, she adds more Division I pitching experience to an already potent staff.
'Kourtney has been a pleasant surprise,' said Ninemire. 'If she steps up to her capabilities, she is going to be a tremendous boost to our team.'
Fresh off of a trip to the Sydney Olympics as a member of the Italian team, DiSalvio is 47-31 in three seasons with Cal. She brings big-game experience and the necessary leadership to the field for her senior campaign. Not only can she start and go the distance, as she proved last season with eight complete-game shutouts, but she also holds the Cal career record with eight saves.
Always a clutch performer, she earned a pair of key wins at the end of last season when the Bears needed them most. First, she blanked Arizona State, 1-0, on the final weekend of the regular season, then she shut down Fresno State, 2-0, in the championship game of the NCAA regional.
Forest enters her third season as a starter in the circle for the Bears in the best health of her career. Hampered by a sore shoulder that eventually required surgery, she managed to win 24 games as a freshman. Last year, Forest was limited by a hip injury the second half of the season, yet still produced 23 victories, including three in the NCAA regional.
'Jocelyn may have worked the hardest of all in the offseason,' said Ninemire. 'She is focused this year and has set some lofty goals, not only for herself, but for the team as well.'
Deering rounds out the impressive and experienced 2001 pitching staff. She was undefeated with a 9-0 record and a 1.62 ERA in 19 games as a freshman, including seven relief appearances. A good all-around athlete, Deering also played with the Cal women's basketball team this past season.
Iancin's departure has caused the infield to be shaken up a bit, but Ninemire believes the Bears will be well off with two players changing positions to fill the void. Junior Eryn Manahan, Cal's shortstop last year, will convert to second base, while senior Paige Bowie moves from the outfield to shortstop.
'Eryn covers her position very well,' said Ninemire. 'We miss Lisa, but Eryn will do a fine job there.'
A four-year guard on the basketball team, Bowie has come to the softball team late the past three seasons and has been an important piece to the outfield puzzle. This year, without the commitment to basketball, Bowie has had the entire offseason to hone her skills at shortstop, her primary position as a first team all-state player at Clovis West High School in Fresno.
'Paige came to us and suggested that she was ready to dedicate herself to make the transition to shortstop,' said Ninemire. 'She is a great leader and enjoys the challenges.'
Sophomore Veronica Nelson and junior Candice Harper round out the corner positions on the diamond. A hard-hitting first baseman from San Leandro, Nelson is an offensive threat by trade. She set the Cal season home run record last year by knocking out 14 homers and adding 42 RBI on her way to a .314 batting average. With a top offensive threat hitting behind her, her offensive capabilities may show even more.
And Harper just might be able to provide that needed protection. A two-year starter at third base, Harper covers her territory well and has batted over .300 the past two years. In addition to her hitting abilities, she is a sure-handed fielder who did not commit an error in Cal's last 22 games.
A defensive specialist behind the plate, Courtney Scott enters 2001 with a full year of experience in teaming up with the Bears pitching staff. A sophomore from Clovis, Scott made an immediate impact last season as the full-time catcher, starting all 74 games and throwing out 19 would-be base stealers.
'Courtney has a great arm, and on top of that, she calls a great game,' said Ninemire.
'I have the utmost confidence in the outfielders this season,' said Ninemire. 'We are fast and communicate well.'
Dueï¿½as started all 74 games for the Bears last season, mostly in left field. In addition, she serves as a backup to Scott behind the plate and can play the infield if called upon. A career .198 hitter prior to last season, Dueï¿½as batted a career-high .260 last year. She has worked even harder during this offseason and expects to become an even greater offensive threat for the Bears.
Phillips had a nagging hip injury that sidelined her for 14 games towards the end of last season. For her senior campaign, Philips hopes to stay injury free and put up offensive numbers similar to 1999, when she batted .294 with a team-high seven home runs and 23 RBI.
As a redshirt-freshman, Morley started 56 games last year either in the outfield or as the DP. Her .295 average ranked fourth on the squad. While mostly patrolling right field, Morley recorded 26 putouts and did not commit an error. With another year of experience under her belt, she is sure to be a mainstay in the outfield for Cal.
According to Ninemire, Mikella Pedretti has great potential to become the starting DP for the Bears and a backup in the outfield, as well. She has had some back problems in the past, but as long as she can stay healthy, she will compete for a spot in the lineup.
Freshmen Katie Andrew and Danielle Setiawan should also add depth in the outfield, in addition to adding speed on the base paths.