CalBears.com highlights a key game in Diane Ninemire's career at Cal.
April 26, 2010
BERKELEY - One of the most important aspects of California softball head coach Diane Ninemire's preparations for the 2002 Women's College World Series did not involve softball. It was not a rigorous defensive drill, batting practice or even throwing. It was a team trip to the WCWS logo in center field.
It was there that Ninemire, who had just guided the Golden Bears to their fourth straight trip to the hallowed grounds of Oklahoma City, read to the Bears. She did not draw upon famous quotes or a story of Cal yore. Instead, in her hands, she had a story published in the local Oklahoma newspaper.
Veteran Arizona head coach Mike Candrea gave an interview to the paper in which he stated that no one could overlook the Bears. He noted that the 2002 squad was a scrappy group with good power and could overtake anyone. It was that quote and article that Ninemire distinctly remembers reading to her team prior to the opening day of the WCWS.
"I really challenged the team when we got to the World Series that week," Ninemire said. "I lined them up on the logo and read them that. I told them that their dream of winning the national title could come true, but that we all had to believe that we were the best team that week."
Cal: 3, WCWS Opponents: 0
The Bears opened the week in high fashion with senior pitcher Jocelyn Forest striking out 14 Sooner batters to lift Cal to a 4-2 victory over Oklahoma in the opening round of the WCWS, marking the fourth time the Bears had won the first-round game in its seventh World Series appearance.
Cal continued to stay hot in its next game, defeating No. 8 Florida State, 1-0, on freshman Chelsea Spencer's solo blast. The win was Cal's ninth consecutive, allowed the Bears to tie the school record for wins in a year (54) and was the first time that the Bears have won the first two games of a WCWS.
Following the win over Florida State, Cal beat Arizona State, 3-0, to tread on ground that no other Golden Bear softball team in school history had been able to cover by advancing to their first-ever national championship game. It was also Cal's 55th win of the season, the most ever in the program's 31-year existence.
Against the Sun Devils, the Bears scored all three runs on one play in the bottom of the first inning. With two outs, runners ran on contact as freshman Jessica Pamanian's dribbler to third was bare-handed by ASU's Phelan Wright, who side-armed the throw off the mark to first. Freshman Kaleo Eldredge and junior Kristen Morley came in easily as right fielder Kristen Farber tried to field the ball off the fence along the first base line. Junior Jen Deering, who was pinch running for junior Veronica Nelson, crossed the plate when Farber attempted to throw out Pamanian at second.
Senior pitcher Jocelyn Forest, who had pitched every game in the 2002 NCAA Tournament, threw her sixth one-hitter of the season and her 12th shutout of the year. In seven innings, she struck out four batters and walked none for her 34th complete game in 2002.
"It was just an unbelievable event when we started knocking off all these teams," Ninemire said. "Then we got to the game when we played Arizona State, and the third baseman threw the ball out in right field and we rolled on. We were just on a roll - another win, another win, another win."
The defeat of ASU pushed Cal into the WCWS title game against Pac-10 foe Arizona. Previously that season, the Bears took two of three from the Wildcats, winning two in Berkeley, while dropping one game in Tucson.
Where No Bears Had Gone Before - the Title Game
The championship day held special significance for more than one reason.
It was the first time that the Bears had been in the title game.
No other Cal women's team had ever won a NCAA national championship.
"That championship game that day, it was like a magical moment in a mind," Ninemire. "It was a day that we only dreamed of being at because we've been at the World Series a number of other times, but never got to the final day."
The game was a pitching dual between Cal's Forest and Zona's Jennie Finch, two of the best hurlers in the nation. Forest had a younger team behind her, notably less experienced and freshmen-laden compared to the defending national champion Wildcats. Additionally, Candrea and his 'Cats had already won six NCAA Championships in program history and had been to the title game 10 times. It was truly a David and Goliath situation.
Finch (34-6), the player of the year in 2001 when she went 32-0 and Arizona won the title, retired the first two batters in the seventh before Eldredge walked. Morley followed with a single, then Harper singled up the middle to make it 1-0.
"I'll never forget that seventh inning," Ninemire noted. "Our freshman, Kaleo, dove into home to get the first run. At that point, you're thinking, as a coach, `Well, we're glad we got one run and hopefully we'll be able to hold on and Jocelyn will do really well on the mound.' But it just opened up the flood gates. It was like my team just believed that the moment was going to happen and it was our time. We scored many more runs after that."
After an intentional walk to Nelson loaded the bases, Finch walked in the second run before giving up a bases-clearing double to Pamanian that made it 5-0. Finch was replaced by Jenny Gladding, who gave up a double to Spencer that finished the scoring.
"Jennie Finch was the reason why we got here and we rode her, and I think she just ran out of a little bit of gas," Candrea said following the game. "It was Cal's day."
With a 5-0 lead in the bottom of the seventh, the Bears took the field on defense, just three outs away from the first title in program history. In the bottom end of the seventh, Forest could not have had a better inning for she struck out the side on a team that had been the No. 1 squad in the country to sign, seal and deliver the national championship.
"So, to me, there will be never a game that will mean more to this program as far as where we have always dreamed of wanting to be," Ninemire said. "Throughout the years, I've had so many special games with so many special players, but that one, I guess, would take the cake."
A Season to Remember
It took nine freshmen, one transfer, six juniors and two seniors to lead Cal to a school record 56-19 overall mark and the first NCAA women's title in school history. Those 56 wins set a then-program record for wins in a season, and that mark still stands as of 2009.
For the first time in school history, Cal wrapped up its storybook season with the No. 1-ranking in the USA Today/NFCA Coach's Poll, which was the first time the Bears finished atop the final poll.
The softball team held the only Cal women's NCAA title until 2009, when the Cal women's swimming and diving won the NCAA Championships. With their 33-11 overall record heading into this weekend, the Bears seemed poised for yet another run into the postseason.
CalBears.com highlights a key game in Diane Ninemire's career at Cal.
March 31, 2010
BERKELEY - When asked which of the games in her career at the helm of the California softball team stick out most in her mind, head coach Diane Ninemire sits back and rifles through countless innings of Golden Bear softball. With only two wins to go until she reaches the 1000-win platform, Ninemire, who is in her 23rd year at the helm, has to think for a moment before coming to a decision. She has plenty from which to choose - from the 2002 World Series Championship to any of the nine trips to the Women's College World Series that she has guided the Bears to the 998 wins and 483 losses.
"If there's a defining moment for Cal softball, it happened in '96 when we won the Regional at Fresno State," Ninemire recalls fondly. "We weren't picked to win the Regional."
In 1996, Cal was sent to Fresno State for the sixth time in the last 10 years for an NCAA Regional. Since their first trip to Bulldog Territory in 1982 following the inception of the NCAA Tournament for softball and coming into the 1996 season, the Bears had a 2-11 all-time record at Fresno State in postseason play.
The preview trip for Cal to Fresno State occurred in 1994, when the Bears opened the Regional with a 3-2 loss to Oregon only to rebound with an 8-0 mercy win in six innings over Central Michigan, Cal's only second win ever in the postseason at FSU. That win set the Bears and Oregon up for another battle with Oregon again emerging the victor, this time a 2-0 win for the Ducks in 20 innings.
So it was no surprise to the Bears that they were sent to Fresno for the 1996 Regional. Cal had finished the regular season at a 37-21 clip, finishing fourth in the Pac-10 at 14-12. This season was the first that the Bulldogs played in their newly opened Bulldog Stadium and the only year that the Women's College Series would be held at the Olympic Center in Georgia, which was built for the 1996 Atlanta Games.
In the Regional-opening game for the Bears, Cal defeated then-No. 19 Long Beach State, 4-1. Next on the docket was a match with host and postseason foe Fresno State, which lost to the Bears, 1-0, for Cal's second win against the Bulldogs in Regional play.
The Bears and Bulldogs met again the next day - May 19, 1996 - to decide who would advance to the Women's College World Series.
In the rubber match, the Bears broke through first in the bottom of the third when designated hitter Jenny Ackley singled to center field to score leadoff hitter and catcher Megumi Takasaki, who had reached on a single of her own to left. The lead would be short lived for Fresno State struck in the top of the fifth to knot the game at 1-1.
The score would remain at 1-1 for the next 3.5 innings, all of which were scoreless and saw Cal notch the only two hits.
Cal tallied its seventh hit of the game with shortstop Katie May hitting an inning-beginning single to right field. The next Bear batter - right fielder Dina Frandsen - worked Fresno pitcher Kim Peck for another single, this one to left, advancing May to second and putting two runners on with no outs.
That brought up left fielder Karen Bonini.
Bonini, who finished the 1996 season batting .150, had a single in the second, reached on a fielder's choice in the fourth and lined out to right in the seventh.
"The Fresno State defense was playing Bonini too deep," Ninemire describes. "They did not assess that she was going to be slapping and were too far deep."
Bonini and the Bears made them pay for that slight error.
With still no outs in the top of the ninth, the 5-5 left fielder Bonini power slapped up the middle.
The Bulldogs could not field the slow ground ball in time to throw May, who had the green light to score from second, out at home. Bonini became the hero, hitting the game-winning RBI single.
"I have not been hitting the ball well all year long, and I've made a lot of adjustments in my batting," Bonini said in the post-game press conference. "I had a temper tantrum yesterday, and they had to calm me down, and I adjusted my swing. I [choked up]and shortened my swing."
With their perfect 3-0 record at the Fresno State Regional, the Bears emerged as regional champions on the Bulldogs home field for the first time in program history.
Cal went on to go 1-2 at the Women's College World Series in Columbus, Ga., making its first appearance at the Series since 1992. But it was the extra-innings victory at Fresno State that Ninemire highlighted as a key game in her road to 1000 victories.
"One of the most important things that team took away from Fresno was how we played," Ninemire notes. "Winning at a place where we had previously struggled helped us immensely. It made the 1996 team as well as all the teams that followed to believe that we could win on the road and win on the road in hostile environments. The Bears can keep their focus and play under pressure."
For Ninemire and the Bears, keeping that focus under pressure is not just something that relates to the 1996 game against Fresno State or any other games. Like many of the experiences of a student-athlete, attitudes on the field translate to life off of it as well, something that Ninemire is quick and correct to note is a cornerstone of the Cal program.
"When we're on the road in the postseason, we're always in finals," Ninemire says. "For them to keep their focus on the finals and yet to do their very best at the most important part of the season, I just think it speaks volumes about the type of players that attend Cal and put on the Bear uniform. That's why when they leave Cal, they become such successful people because they have always been able to work under pressure."
The Karen Bonini story also demonstrates another hallmark of the Ninemire coaching philosophy.
"I've always told my players that it doesn't matter what you do in the season, it's what you do when it counts the most," Ninemire explains. "Your memories are made in the postseason. You always have to keep your dreams alive. For Karen Bonini to come through with the winning hit after struggling all year, it just goes to show you that you never know when your most important hit or run will happen. You never know what will end up being the biggest memory that you and your teammates will have for the rest of your lives."
Following the 1996 regional victory at Fresno State, Cal has gone back to the central valley six times for the postseason, but it has faired significantly better. Since 1996, the Bears are 19-6 in regional play at Bulldog Stadium, advancing to the next round in four different seasons. The nine-inning, 2-1 win on May 19, 1996 helped Cal turn the tide against Fresno State, altering Bear program history forever.
"To go there and play in front of their brand-new stadium in front of their fans, things have been different for us ever since then at Fresno," Ninemire concludes "After we struggled for so many years to win there, after that 1996 series, it's now a rarity that we lose in Fresno. It's like Fresno has become a home site for us since we get sent there so much."
Though Ninemire is set to reach 1000 wins, the 1996 game will no doubt stick with her for a long time to come.
All-time record entering 2010: 970-477
All-time record as of April 1, 2010: 998-483
Years as head coach: 22
Winning seasons: 22
Years in the postseason: 22
All-America selections: 35
All-Pac-10 selections: 146
Academic All-America selections: 44
All-region selections: 86
Coach of the year: 1
Average wins per season: 44
Average losses per season: 22
Season-high wins: 56, achieved in the 2002 Women's College World Series winning season (56-19 overall)
Season-low losses: 14, achieved in 2006 (48-14 overall)
Regional appearances: 22
All-time Regional record: 57-32
Consecutive Regional appearances: 22
Women's College World Series appearances: 9
Women's College World Series championships: 1 (2002)
Women's College World Series runner-up finishes: 2 (2003, 2004)
Longest streak of consecutive WCWS appearances: 7 (1999-2005)
Number of Bears coached who advanced to professional leagues: 8
Number of Olympians coached: 7