Cal not looking past lowly Broncos

Photo: Britt Vonk is batting .404 this season for the Bears. The freshman shortstop leads the team in hits, runs and walks.
Eugene Lau/Staff
Britt Vonk is batting .404 this season for the Bears. The freshman shortstop leads the team in hits, runs and walks.


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How many Santa Clara students does it take to change a light bulb?

One - but you would never know about it because only Cal and Stanford get press for changing their light bulbs.

That theory also applies to sports, which is probably a good thing for the Santa Clara softball team.

No. 9 Cal (30-9, 7-5 in the Pac-10) will play host today at Levine-Fricke Field at 3 p.m. to the Broncos, a team that has had little to celebrate in 2011.

Fresh off being swept last weekend by San Diego, Santa Clara limps into Berkeley with a 6-21 record, having lost 11 straight. The team's last win came on April 9 against Cal State Bakersfield.

"It has sometimes been a challenging thing for our program to be focused on a Wednesday game," Cal coach Diane Ninemire said. "We need to play at the level of our best ability, not at the level of our opponent."

If the Bears do end up playing to the level of their opponent, it'll be hard for anyone to take them seriously as a legitimate Women's College World Series team.

As a team, Santa Clara is getting outhit .353 to .208. Outside of outfielder Briana Knight, the team's only real bright spot with a .442 batting average, no player is hitting above .300, and nine of the 15 are below the Mendoza line.

The Broncos' pitching has been equally ineffective. In her team-high 18 starts, freshman Jessica Turner is 1-15 with a 9.85 ERA. She'll be matched up with Cal's ace Jolene Henderson, who boasts a 27-6 record and a 0.74 ERA.

The Bears will likely use this as an opportunity to get their offense on track, and will look to improve their team batting average of .284, which currently ranks second to last in the Pac-10. After being overly aggressive at the plate early in the season, Cal has been too selective with their bats as of late.

"We're not swinging at really bad pitches anymore, but what we need to do now is be ready to hit the first strike the pitcher throws," Ninemire said. "We need to be more aggressive on pitching mistakes."

But if there was ever a time to gain some confidence with the bat, it's against a pitching staff that has surrendered 209 runs in 174 2/3 innings of work.

Still, Cal knows it needs to be mentally focused on the game - which will probably be the most difficult task it faces on Wednesday.

"It shouldn't matter what name is on the jersey of the team we play, we need to come out every game and play what we believe is Cal softball." Ninemire said.

However, with a three-game series against defending national champion UCLA coming up this weekend, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which the Bears aren't already looking towards the future.

"Every game, we try to play like we're playing a top-tier team," center fielder Frani Echavarria said. "This is a great opportunity to prepare for a big rival like UCLA."

Tags: CAL SOFTBALL, DIANE NINEMIRE, JAMIA REID, JOLENE HENDERSON


Connor Byrne covers softball. Contact him at [email protected]



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