Bullish Bears Looking to Better Best Start Ever





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It's like not talking to your pitcher if he's got a perfect game going in the seventh inning. Like not saying anything if your shooting guard has hit 5-of-5 three-pointers by halftime. Or not mentioning to your buddy that he's birdied the last seven holes.

You don't want to jinx it.

After all, look what happened when the everyone noticed that Tiger Woods had won six straight PGA victories and started drawing comparisons to Byron Nelson's 11-tournament winning streak. Or when people got talking about the Syracuse basketball team's 19-win start this year.

Those streaks quickly came to an end.

But as little as the No. 12 Cal softball team wants to talk or think about it, the team is off to an 8-0 start, the Bears' best since 1992. Cal is only four wins away from tying a school-record 12-0 start that the team burst out to in 1981 and 1982.

So, this weekend at the UNLV Classic in Las Vegas, the Bears have a chance to break that record. Cal opens up against Loyola Marymount and Central Michigan Friday before going head-to-head with Portland State and Virginia Saturday. The Bears finish off the tournament Sunday against UNLV when, if things go well, they could best the old streak.

"We're not really doing anything different in practice this week," Cal coach Diane Ninemire said. "If we go in and play one game at a time and maintain our focus like we've been doing all year, we'll do fine."

The Bears will likely get their biggest challenge from the Central Michigan, which enters the season ranked No. 23. The Chippewas were selected to participate in the Ann Arbor, Mich. Regional of the NCAA tournament last season, but were eliminated with two straight losses in the double-elimination bracket.

Cal's final game against the Running Rebels (3-4) should present a challenge for the Bears. Cal lost its only game of the classic last year in a 6-2 loss to UNLV. The Rebels have already upset two top-25 teams this year, downing No. 13 Nebraska, 7-6, and No. 16 Massachusetts, 4-3, at the Fiesta Bowl Tournament.

Meanwhile Loyola Marymount enters the tourney with a perfect 4-0 record.

"All the teams are good clubs," Ninemire said. "They're teams that could come out and beat you any day. All the games will really test our program."

The Bears hope that freshman Veronica Nelson continues her dominating ways in the batter's box this weekend. Nelson has already been walked 13 times this year while registering a .571 batting average. More intimidating for opposing pitching staffs are Nelson's three home runs in 14 at bats.

Cal will also rely on its consistent pitching and defense to get it through both the tournament and the remainder of the year. The Bears have the luxury of choosing from three high-caliber hurlers - junior Nicole DiSalvio, sophomore Jocelyn Forest and freshman Jennifer Deering - a factor that Ninemire is confident will play a large role in Cal's success this year.

"I expect all our pitchers to get time," Ninemire said. "No matter who we start, we'll always have another pitcher ready to come in if we need 911 relief."

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