Softball Ready for Weekend Invitational

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Usually, a team with lots of new players doesn't run as smoothly as a new car. But can I interest you in a 2000 Cal softball team?

Take a look at the powerful engine on this gem, friend. You hit the gas and it fires on all cylinders. Revs to the melodious tune of 24 homers in 22 games. Cruises with a .321 team batting average. Its a No. 6 team with a 22-1 record. And it runs as smooth as a baby's bottom.

It practically sells itself, buddy.

You want to talk safety features? It's got plenty. This pitching staff holds off the oncoming traffic with a 1.12 ERA and limits opponents to a .200 batting average. Add a .976 fielding percentage - even better than the 1999 model that finished ranked sixth in the nation in the category - and you've got the ultimate combination of power and safety.

And this weekend, you can test this machine at the National Invitational Softball Tournament in Sunnyvale, Calif. Cal is scheduled to face Utah State, Kent State and No. 25 Nebraska Friday to determine seeding for the Saturday and Sunday bracket competition.

Cal has walked away with the tournament championship two straight years, winning by total run differential last March after the final game against Iowa was rained out. Still, the Bears can't afford to take anything for granted.

Over the weekend, Cal will be one of four nationally ranked teams vying for the championship. The Bears could wind up facing No. 4 Arizona State and No. 20 Long Beach State sometime this weekend.

According to the latest USA Today/NFCA Poll, the Bears' biggest challenge Friday should be the Cornhuskers. But Nebraska (7-9) has lost its last two games by a combined score of 13-2 to No. 1 Washington and No. 4 Arizona State - both Pac-10 teams. The Cornhuskers do own a 10-5 series advantage over Cal and won the teams' last meeting, 6-5, in 1998.

"I'm really excited about playing Nebraska," senior Lisa Iancin said. "I've watched them over the years and they always play with tenacity."

Still, a victory over Nebraska could hinge on whether the Bears' pitching staff can neutralize Jennifer Lizama - the second baseman leads the Huskers in nearly every offensive category. Lizama is batting at an impressive .400 clip and has four home runs.

After Lizama, however, the production gets much more shaky. The rest of the team has hit four homers and only two other players are over the .300 mark - not exactly on par with Cal's hitting arsenal.

The Bears will get an extra boost in their Sunday matchups when junior Paige Bowie joins the team for the final day of the competition after wrapping up her duties as a wing for the women's basketball team Saturday night. Bowie - also an outfielder and leadoff hitter for the softball team - set the pace for the squad last year with a .318 batting average.

"Softball's always a nice change (from basketball)," Bowie said. "I've been hitting some on my own and I have to get the signs down. I've been following the team and it sounds like they're on a roll. A lot of seniors left last year but I think this team's going to be just as good."


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