Bears Return to Form in Capital Classic

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Last week following the Cal softball team's loss to Utah, Bears coach Diane Ninemire outlined her recipe for a championship-caliber squad.

A cup of team play, a splash of clutch hitting and a quart of effort.

But according to Ninemire, included among the ingredients were two elements that had been missing in Cal's recent losses to Utah and Nebraska: defense and mental preparedness.

And without them, the Bears' games were coming out flat. Heading into the Capital Classic this past weekend in Sacramento, Calif., the No. 5 Bears had lost two straight games to unranked teams - serving both the Utes and the Cornhuskers wins thanks to a combined eight official errors and a number of other slip-ups on the field and basepaths that did not show up on the scoreboard.

At this weekend's tournament, Cal proved that it can cook up success if it adds the final - and crucial - ingredients to the mix.

And never was it more clear than when the Bears got revenge against two teams that had defeated them earlier this year - Utah and Wisconsin.

"We had a couple talks this past week," pitcher Nicole DiSalvio said. "We know if we play well, we can win. But we also know that if we're not prepared, almost any team can beat us."

Cal (34-4) kicked off the tournament in pool play Thursday with a pair of wins over Portland State, 2-1, and Virginia, 6-5. The Bears topped Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 3-2, early Friday before losing their only game of the Classic in an eight-inning, 2-1 loss to Wisconsin.

Cal advanced to the semifinals by defeating San Jose State, 3-0, and Utah, 2-1, in the bracket competition Saturday. The Bears clinched the championship by avenging their loss to the Badgers with a 1-0 win to advance to the final. Cal topped Pac-10 rival Oregon, 3-0, in the final game to bring home the championship.

The Ducks (17-10) made it easy for the Bears in the final, allowing Cal to jump out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Outfielder Paige Bowie was hit with a pitch from Oregon hurler Connie McMurren with one out. McMurren then walked three Cal batters in a row - Veronica Nelson, Lisa Iancin and Candace Harper - to score Kristi Robles, who was pinch running for Nelson. Iancin then crossed home on a sacrifice fly by shortstop Eryn Manahan.

"Right now we're going through a bit of a dry spell so we have to pick up the rest of our game," DiSalvio said. "We just had to decide that we really wanted it. We just have to be solid on defense and eventually our bats will come around."

The Bears added another run in the fifth inning to extend their lead and secure the win. Cal managed to score three runs on only three hits, taking full advantage of the two Ducks errors and the seven walks issued by McMurren.

Sophomore Jocelyn Forest blanked the Ducks by striking out eight and holding Oregon to only six hits. Forest went the full seven innings without walking a single batter and improved her record to 15-2 with the win.

The Bears got another solid pitching performance from DiSalvio (11-2) in the Sunday morning semifinal game against Wisconsin. DiSalvio pitched a complete-game shutout by holding the Badgers (18-9) to seven scattered hits while fanning four and only surrendering one walk.

Cal scored the only run of the game in the third inning when Nelson smacked an RBI single to score center fielder Amber Phillips. The Bears were also outhit by Wisconsin by a five to seven margin, but capitalized on two Badgers errors to come away with another close win.

In the opening day of play, Nelson set a single-season record for homers when she knocked a three-run shot to bring her total to 11. The freshman first baseman surpassed Melanie McCart's old record of 10 set in 1997, and also holds the record for the most walks in a season with 47.

Nelson and the Bears conclude their nonconference schedule with a doubleheader at home against Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Wednesday at noon. Cal will kick off its Pac-10 schedule Saturday at 1 p.m. when it hosts archrival Stanford at Levine-Fricke Field.

"I think we learned a lot of lessons (from our preconference games)," DiSalvio said. "We've been in almost every situation, so I think we're ready for almost anything. In Pac-10 (competition), it's the hardest conference in the nation, so we're going to have to pick it up."


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