May 16, 2004
BERKELEY, Calif. -
Nationally ranked No. 2 California earned its first No. 1 seed in program history Sunday evening when the NCAA Softball Championship Tournament bracket was announced. The Bears (46-11) will be playing in Region 5 at Lincoln, Neb., and will face eighth-seeded Maine (27-21) Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in first round action. It will be the first meeting between the two programs.
Nebraska (40-15) earned the No. 2 seed and will host the region, taking on No. 7 seed Lehigh (40-15-2) in the 3 p.m. game. No. 3 seed Florida Atlantic (54-16) will see sixth-seeded Creighton (39-15-1) at 10 a.m. to open regional action and No. 4 seed Mississippi State (38-24) will play fifth-seeded Iowa (36-22) in the second game at 12:30 p.m.
"The girls' hard work this year paid off for them," said California head coach Diane Ninemire, who has led her teams to the postseason in each of her 17 seasons at Cal, including seven trips to the Women's College World Series. "We played the last two weeks exceptionally strong and haven't looked back. Everyone's stepped up huge for us."
The Bears enter the 2004 postseason on an eight-game winning streak that included wins over then No. 3 UCLA, No. 6 Washington, No. 13 Oregon and No. 20 Oregon State. Cal finished tied for second in the Pacific-10 Conference with a record of 13-8, its highest conference finish since 1987 when the Bears finished first.
"It doesn't really matter to me where they send us because the bottom line is that we have to win wherever we go," said Ninemire. "You have to play your best game no matter what. We just have to continue playing the way we have been the past two weeks."
Making its 20th appearance in the NCAA Softball Championship Tournament, California has advanced into postseason play for 19 consecutive years, the longest active streak of any school in the Pacific-10 Conference. The Bears' trip to Lincoln, Neb., marks just the sixth time in the past 19 years that Cal has played at a regional site outside the state of California. Previous regional postseason trips have been to Michigan (2003), Florida State (2001), Massachusetts (1999) and Arizona State (1986, 1982).
Cal won the NCAA National Championship in 2002, the first women's national championship by any team in school history, and returned to the title game in 2003 before falling to UCLA in extra innings. Last year, the Bears won four-straight to win their region and tallied a 4-2 record at the WCWS. Cal is a combined 39-26 in regional action and 15-14 in the WCWS but over the past five years has posted a 21-3 regional and 11-8 WCWS record.
The NCAA Softball Championship Tournament features 64 teams seeded into eight regionals with eight teams at each site. The regionals are double-elimination and will be played on campus sites May 20-23. The winner of each region advances to the Women's College World Series May 27-31 at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.