Bears see selves in UCLA squad

Photo: Center fielder Frani Echavarria is hitting .248 over her 40 starts for the Bears.
Eugene W. Lau/File
Center fielder Frani Echavarria is hitting .248 over her 40 starts for the Bears.

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A typical quote from a coach is that the players aren't actually playing against their opponent, but rather are "playing themselves."

But for the Cal softball team, that's pretty close to the truth - at least for its upcoming series with UCLA.

The No. 9 Bears will host the No. 11 Bruins for a three-game series, starting today at 3 p.m. at Levine-Fricke Field.

Both teams are currently sitting in a three-way tie for second place in the Pac-10 with No. 10 Arizona, each with a 7-5 record in league play.

In addition to their identical conference records and strikingly similar overall records (30-9 for the Bears and 31-10 for the Bruins), the teams are nearly mirror images of one another.

Both have struggled at the plate this season. Cal enters the game with the second lowest team batting average in the Pac-10 - a meager .288.

"We've done well when it comes to clutch hitting," center fielder Frani Echavarria said. "But we can definitely improve throughout the game in addition to those times."

UCLA hasn't been much better, currently sitting two spots ahead with a .321 team batting average.

But pitching has been a different story. The Bears currently lead the conference with a team ERA of 1.74. Sophomore Jolene Henderson has been the workhorse, boasting a 27-6 record and a mindboggling 0.74 ERA, which comfortably leads the Pac-10.

Though the Bruin pitchers don't quite have the same flashy stats, they make up for it with their balance. Freshman Jessica Hall and senior Donna Kerr have combined for a 27-10 record in 40 starts. Reliever Aleah Macon has been equally effective, allowing batters to hit just .211.

Henderson will likely start all three games for Cal, whereas each of UCLA's pitchers will probably see the circle.

Last season, the Bruins won the national championship by sweeping Arizona in the final, whereas coach Diane Ninemire's club was two wins short of making the final round of eight. In their regular season matchup, UCLA snagged two of the three games - which included spoiling a two hit gem by Henderson.

This weekend, the Bears will need to cut out their fielding errors. Cal has committed 42 errors on the season, the third most in the conference.

"A lot of our errors are really silly and unnecessary," Ninemire said. "This team is more than capable of playing an errorless game. We can't afford to have any errors this weekend."

Whichever team differentiates itself this weekend will have the inside track for second place in the Pac-10.

"Our destiny is in our own hands, and it's definitely possible for us to be a top-eight team in the country," Ninemire said.


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

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