Bears Prepare for Friday Night Lights
Courtesy: Cal Athletics  
Release:  05/17/2012

May 17, 2012

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BERKELEY - Though it's a phrase normally reserved for the gridiron, the California softball team has adopted "Friday Night Lights" as the theme for the Golden Bears' first game in the Berkeley Regional. On Friday, May 18, No. 1 seed Cal takes on Iona at 7 p.m. under the lights at Levine-Fricke Field in serene Strawberry Canyon. Not only is this the first postseason game in Berkeley since 1993, but it's the first time in program history that the Bears have played under lights on their home turf.

"It's awesome because it's the first game under the lights," junior pitcher Jolene Henderson. "It's a big step up for Cal, and we all appreciate all the hard work that went into it."

Even the alums are taking note.

"Getting lights brought in is a huge step forward for the softball team," former Golden Bear Kristina Thorson said. "This perennial powerhouse is being rewarded for all of the hard work and success they've had under Coach Ninemire. It's a very proud time to be an alumni."

The Bears practiced on Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. - promptly the time they should be taking the field on Friday. At the start of practice, the sun was beginning to set on the picturesque San Francisco Bay Area, visible from just beyond California Memorial Stadium. By the final team huddle, it was complete dark out - with the lights shining down on the Bears, of course. Practice provided the Bears a chance to see how the ball would look come game time.

Though it may be the first night game in Berkeley, Friday's game against Iona will not be the first night game of the year for Cal. The Bears played four games at night this season, in which they posted a 3-1 record. Cal defeated Butler in Fresno, 14-1 in five innings, under the lights at Bulldog Diamond. The Bears went 10 innings with then-No. 19/18 Hawaii in Honolulu in the evening, eventually succumbing to the Rainbow Wahine 3-1 in the bottom of the 10th. Cal opened Pac-12 play at Smith Family Field on the Farm, where they defeated then-No. 9 Stanford 9-0, raining four homers on the Cardinal. More recently, first pitch at No. 14/18 Oregon on April 20 was 6 p.m., and the Bears beat the Ducks 8-1. Those games are still fresh in Cal's mind.

"We've done well under the lights this year," volunteer assistant coach Angie Jacobssaid. "As a player, I always preferred playing at night. I felt I could see the ball better. I think the kids are excited."

Excited is right. Practices on both Wednesday and Thursday were lively, though focused. The Bears ran defensive drills, did work off tees and in the batting cages - all like normal. But the NCAA signs everywhere and sharing home field with the unfamiliar teams of Iona, Boston University and Arkansas are outward markers that things are slightly different. But no matter the opponent, the Bears are grateful.

"We're all excited," freshman Nikki Owenssaid. "It's a great opportunity. It's cool to be the first team to have all these accomplishments - we won the first Pac-12 title, we're the first to play under the lights and host a regional."

After practice on Thursday, the Bears headed to their locker room at the Simpson Center for Student-Athlete High Performance for some down time. Meanwhile, the Cal coaches and administrators who have worked tirelessly to put on the Berkeley Regional, met with coaches and administrators from the three other schools and NCAA. Following the meeting, the Bears and coaches enjoyed a delicious and freshly prepared meal at the Simpson Center's cafeteria before adjourning for the evening, eager to get a good night's rest before Friday.

On Friday, when the Bears take the field at Levine-Fricke Field, which they have done so many times, it will be against Iona as the Bears fight for their chance to advance further into the NCAA Tournament. First pitch is slated for 7 p.m., but it will be pushed back if the 5 p.m. game featuring Boston U and Arkansas goes long. Individual session tickets will be available for purchase at the field, beginning at 3:30 p.m. Please click here for information on parking and here to read about day-of tickets.

Be sure to follow the Bears' adventures in the postseason on Facebook and Twitter as well as join in the live chat for each Cal game, starting with the Cal vs. Iona game.