Red Hot Sun Devils Face Cal to Open Pac-10 Play

Weekend Series Against Arizona State Marks the Bears' First Homestand

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After four months, 25 away games and seven cities, the No. 8 Cal softball team is finally coming home.

Wednesday's tilt against Pacific was the final chapter in the preseason, and the squad is heading full-speed ahead into conference play today. The Bears face off against No. 4 Arizona State at 3 p.m. in the familiar confines of Levine-Fricke Field to start a three-game series.

ASU has a strong lineup that leads the country in batting at .389. The team will be a force to be reckoned with, especially because two of Cal's starters will not be present on the field today.

Both pitcher Jolene Henderson and left fielder Jamia Reid are sidelined. The team has not revealed the nature of their injuries, nor how long they will be out.

Reid leads the team in batting average (.478), total bases (49), runs (24) and slugging percentage (.731) this season, and her hot feet have made her the team's all-time leading base stealer. She hasn't played since March 17 against Cleveland State and BYU.

Henderson's last game was against Cleveland State over a week ago, the third no-hitter of her career.

The game against Pacific this Wednesday saw pitchers Arianna Erceg and Cassandra Vega, two of the team's eight freshmen, in the circle. The 13-2 defeat was a testament to the struggle of both the pitchers.

The months on the road, however, have not gone without impact.

"Traveling as much as we did makes the team stronger and more mature," center fielder Frani Echavarria said. "The moral is to keep going and keep growing."

That strength will be put to the test today against the highest-ranked team Cal (21-4) has seen thus far. Unlike the Bears, the Sun Devils (33-2) kicked off this season with 27 home games.

A 23-game winning streak came to a halt with the team's second loss of the season in a gritty 1-0 result against then-No. 6 Michigan on March 17.

Freshman Dallas Escobedo pitched five scoreless innings before giving up the lone run of the contest in the bottom of the sixth inning. Her 1.25 ERA is second in the Pac-10 behind Henderson.

More recently, ASU's 9-1 victory over Santa Barbara tacked on another win to its now-25 game home winning streak.

The tilt was junior pitcher Hillary Bach's 64th career win. She is a perfect 9-0 this season.

Despite Henderson and Reid's absences, Echavarria remains optimistic. After all, the team has fared well against tough foes like Missouri and Hawaii.

"Our team is well-prepared," she said. "Even though our team is young, we have been exposed to some really great competition leading up to this point."

The Bears hope that confidence is enough to overcome the absence of two of their stars against what is arguably the best competition they have seen thus far.


Kelly Suckow covers softball. Contact her at [email protected]

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