Henderson blanks Cardinal in upset

Photo: Pitcher Jolene Henderson was her usual stellar self against No. 11 Stanford on Thursday, pitching a complete game shutout.
Levy Yun/Staff
Pitcher Jolene Henderson was her usual stellar self against No. 11 Stanford on Thursday, pitching a complete game shutout.

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When Jolene Henderson was a freshman last year, Cal softball coach Diane Ninemire said the talented recruit was throwing more than she was pitching. My, how things have changed.

Henderson has been wreaking havoc from the circle in her sophomore campaign, and No. 11 Stanford was the latest team to come up empty handed at the plate. Despite just one earned run, the No. 12 Bears gutted out a 2-0, series-opening home win at Levine-Fricke Field Thursday afternoon for their 15th shutout of the year.

Cal's ace entered the game with mind-boggling stats to top the Pac-10, including 0.76 ERA - more than a few ticks ahead of Arizona State pitcher Dallas Escobedo's second-best 1.50 - and 197.2 innings pitched.

"She knows that this is riding on her shoulders," Ninemire said. "She has be the one out there, taking this team as far as it can go right now."

The reigning NFCA National Player of the Week started off the day with two straight strikeouts, retiring the side when conference-leading hitter Ashley Hansen grounded out to second.

The Cardinal's sophomore pitcher Teagan Gerhart - who flustered the Bears (29-8, 6-4 in the Pac-10) to take the first two games of last year's series - followed in similar form to open the bottom of the first, striking out leadoff batter Jamia Reid, a .443 hitter.

Then things started to go awry.

Gerhart walked shortstop Britt Vonk on the payoff pitch after working out of a 2-0 count. Third baseman Jace Williams clipped the ball on what initially looked like strike two, but a dispute that had Stanford coach John Rittman coming out of the dugout ended in a catcher's interference call.

Center fielder Frani Echavarria chopped a grounder into the left field gap for a single, and the bases were loaded. Two at-bats later, freshman Ashley Decker drew an RBI walk to put Cal on the scoreboard.

The frame ended on a fly out, but Henderson ran into some trouble as well when she took over in the second. Designated hitter Danielle Miller led off for Stanford (31-9, 5-5) with a single, and second baseman Jenna Rich sent a double into the right field corner.

All of a sudden, Henderson had no outs and runners on second and third.

No problem. She retired the next three batters, with solid fielding bookending her third strikeout.

"Mentally, I go in with a different approach than I did last year, which is control," Henderson said. "I control the games ... It's one pitch at a time."

The game stayed quiet for the next stretch, with Henderson working out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the sixth following back-to-back Cal errors. And after the Bears came up to bat again, Stanford never got a better scoring opportunity.

Catcher Lindsey Ziegenhirt sent Gerhart's second pitch sailing past left field, bouncing her sixth home run of the year off the portable roof to cap the day's score.

"That put a little icing on the cake for us," Ninemire said.

Ziegenhirt had been logging extra practice the past two weeks to try and shake off an early-season slump. It's worked; the sophomore has doubled her home run total over the past seven days.


Contact Jack at [email protected]

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