However! ... The Pac 10 conference has sixth of its eight members in the top ten and a seventh, knocking on the door at #14 nationally. The Bears were one of four Pac 10 teams to earn a spot in the College World Series last season. Those four Pac 10 teams finished 2001 rated as follows: #1 - UCLA, #2 - Arizona, #3 - Stanford & #6 - Cal.
Guess what the national softball rankings are in 2002? Identically the same. Then, add #8 ASU, #10 UW & #14 Oregon State. Last week the NCAA announced 25 candidates for the softball POY for 2002. Thirteen of the nominees were Pac 10 players. Here's the breakdown of superstars per Pac 10 team: UCLA(4), Arizona(3), Stanford & ASU - 2 each and Cal & UW - 1 each. Cal's candidate is star pitcher, senior Jocelyn Forest. It surprised me that 2001 first team all-American first baseman, Veronica Nelson, from Cal did not make the prestigious list.
As is evident, Cal's program has attained success & stability. But will it ever move up to the elite class of the top two perennial powerhouses, UCLA & Arizona?
Before that question is answered, let's review the 2002 Cal softball team - and there's a lot to like about it. This season's team has greater production offensively (up 0.9 runs per game) with less production from Veronica Nelson so far, a substantially improved defense (only 24 team errors in 51 games) but is lagging pitching staff wise, yielding 0.4 runs per game more than last season. In fast pitch softball in general and in the Pac 10 in particular, PITCHING RULES!
Entering this season, Coach Ninemire had to replace four(4) graduated starters, SS Paige Bowie, CF Amber Phillips, LF Pauline Duenas & #2 starting pitcher, Nicole DiSalvio, plus unexpectedly a fifth, two year second baseman, junior Eryn Manahan (lower back injury). Ninemire had a recruiting class of seven freshmen (five position players & two pitchers) joining the team to completely revamp "the up-the-middle defense"(2B, SS & CF). Anybody that has played fast pitch (I did for four seasons) knows that most balls are hit to second base & shortstop. From my aforementioned improvement comments, Cal obviously has been up to the task.
Let's examine the starting lineup...
|BATTING ORDER:||BA / OB% (stats as 4/8/02)|
|#1-CF FR Kaleo Eldredge||.339/.411--LH slap hitter who leads teams in hits, runs & speed(8-9 in stolen base attempts)|
|#2-RF JR Kristen Morley||.291/.345--drives the ball w/ 12 Xtra BHs & tied for second w/ 10 sacrifice bunts(SH-10)|
|#3-3B SR Candace Harper||.312/.347--speedy slap hitter; too impatient (only 8 BBs in 141 ABs)|
|#4-1B JR Veronica Nelson||.351/.618--68 walks but still leads in HRs(9) w/ gaudy slug%(.619)|
|#5- C JR Courtney Scott||.375/.470--top BA & clutch hitter, leading in RBIs(35); 11 Xtra BHs & #2 in BBs(27)|
|#6-SS FR Chelsea Spencer||.281/.396--LH slap hitter w/ great eye(23 BB vs only 11 Ks in 121 AB); best bunter(SH-17)|
|#7-2B FR Jessica Pamanian||.323/.373--#1 in Xtra BHs(19)& sac flies(SF-7) plus #2 in slug%(.509), RBIs, runs & hits|
|#8-DH JR Mikella Pedretti||.233/.356--power w/ 4 HRs in 2001 & 2 HRs in 2002; swing too long(18 Ks in 73 ABs)|
|#9-LF FR Jessica Vernaglia||.218/.273--good athlete w/ Xtra base potential(2 HRs)|
|Utility FR Kristen Bayless||.134/.216--great athlete C/OF plus tied for #2 in sac bunts(10); confidence is growing, now|
In summary, the team is scoring approximately one run per game more than 2001(3.8 vs 2.9 rpg) with a team BA(.293) & a team OB%(.392). Imagine if Eryn Manahan(.304 BA in 2001) was playing second & Pamanian was in left field? Veronica Nelson accounted for nearly two-thirds of the HRs & one-fourth of RBIs last season but she doesn't even lead in RBIs this year. She's homered in the last two games and if she picks up the pace the remainder of the schedule-LOOKOUT!
In fast-pitch, pitching and defense are critical, and Cal's defense this season in bordering on the phenomenal! For example, catcher Courtney Scott has not permitted a passed ball & committed only a single error for a fielding %=.998. She's been rewarded w/ a summer tryout w/ the US Olympic team. Freshman 2B, Pamanian has great range and also has made only one error. The freshman shortstop, Spencer, has been formidable, too, giving up only 3 miscues. Senior Harper has improved as well, yielding only 4 errors at the hot corner.
The only question mark "down-the-stretch" for the Bears is the lack of a bonafide #2 starting pitcher. Jocelyn Forest is on a similar track as compared to last season, pitching approximately half of the team's innings. Last season, however, Cal had a one-two punch. Forest had an ERA of 0.82 while DiSalvio was close behind w/ an ERA of 0.93. Jan Deering was the #3 pitcher last season as an underclassman with an ERA of 1.98. This season Deering was projected to be the #2 starter as a junior but her ERA (2.25) is the highest of the four pitchers on the team. A good omen? Deering has pitched well in her two most recent outings but faces #1 ranked UCLA this weekend in Los Angeles for the REAL test! Coach Ninemire explained to me that one should not evaluate the pitching stats comparably such as ERAs & W-Ls, etc. The reason for that is that Jocelyn Forest has faced ALL of the nationally ranked teams while the coach has eased the two true freshmen pitchers & Deering in against less intimidating competition. Deering's problem this season: lost confidence (yielded 7 HRs & 27 Xtra base hits in only 74 innings) due to lack of location & movement of her pitches. If Deering falters, coach Ninemire probably would opt for freshman, Kelly Anderson.
#1-senior Jocelyn Forest has posted a 18-7 record but has faced every top team(1.07 ERA/ .146 B/Avg)
#2-frosh Kelly Anderson's record is 5-3 with a respectable 1.59 ERA/ .133 B/Avg); she's a power pitcher w/ a tendency to be wild(21 BB/HBPs in only 44 innings)...
#3-frosh Cassie Bobrow's record is 5-1 and she has a 1.02 ERA but a .252 B/Avg given up; she's a finesse pitcher that features a "drop" pitch that has resulted in ZERO homeruns in 41 innings this season.
#4-junior Jen Deering's record is 11-1 but her stats reveal only a 2.25 ERA plus a .219 B/Avg? She's a power pitcher that typically garners a strike out per inning...
The Bottom Line: I'm really impressed with the job that coach Ninemire has done and the fundamentals displayed by her team. This is perhaps her best hitting and defensive team yet. She keeps the local talent "home" to the best of her ability with only 4 So-Cal recruits on the 18 player roster! She has six current players from the West Bay Nuggets ASA team(18 & under) with two more coming in the Fall! She has a couple of players from Sacramento Metro, one from Stockton & two more from the Fresno area as well. Coach Ninemire told me that Cal would have a difficult time supplanting UCLA & Arizona @ the top unless the Bears can defeat them on the field for the national title.
One serious issue the Coach faces: Cal "lacks the facilities" that the top teams have: for example, Washington recently built a $3 million softball only stadium near the water. Cal diligently recruited the Fairfield phenom pitcher who is a prep senior this season but lost her to national powerhouse, Arizona. Under these constraints, Coach Ninemire and her players have to be extraordinarily proud of their accomplishments!
May I add a note to the serious fan of Cal Athletics? Make it a point to attend some of these games for an exciting and competitive look at fast-pitch softball, and talented Cal Bears in action.