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May 20, 2012

Henderson, Jones power elimination-game win



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BERKELEY -- During the regular season, California softball catcher Victoria Jones made just 51 plate appearances. Out of her 15 hits, seven went for extra bases -- five doubles, one triple and one home run - but she came into Saturday night's game having tallied just one hit in her last 12 at-bats. With the No. 1-seeded Bears one loss from early elimination, Jones picked the right time to break out of her slump.

Jones went 2-for-3 with a rain-making home run off a screwball in the top of the second and a first-pitch, one-out rocket double in the fourth that turned into Cal's third run of the game on a Frani Echavarria single, as the Bears rode her hot bat and the never-tired arm of junior hurler Jolene Henderson to a 5-0 win over beleaguered Boston University, which had just come off a marathon 13-inning elimination win over Iona.

"It feels good that I produced for my team," Jones said. "It felt relieving, finally. We did great tonight. [The home run] I'd say that was pretty far."

Senior Valerie Arioto -- who chipped in with a 2-for-2 evening -- chimed in: "She's hit plenty better. She's just being modest."

Henderson -- pitching in her third game in two days -- was at her absolute best, allowing just three hits and one walk while striking out 11 Terriers. Over the past two days, Henderson has pitched 17.2 innings, allowed nine hits and two walks with 25 strikeouts, as Cal (52-5) now has to win two straight on Sunday to advance to the Super Regionals, which the Bears would host.

"Arkansas is a very good team," said Bears head coach Diane Ninemire. "They came out today and performed well, played tough defense and we're going to have to play our very best. We're ready for that, and we look forward to the challenge tomorrow. We're going to come out and give it our best."

Asked how her arm felt, Henderson said, simply, "Golden."

"I think the adrenaline rush, I don't feel anything," she continued. "I'm just excited to go out and play with my team. We need to win every game, and we have our backs against the wall, but that's how Cal plays best."

Cal had to wait two hours from what was supposed to be a 7 PM tilt against the winner of Game Four of the NCAA Berkeley Regional, but the Terriers were harmed by their own grueling contest far more than the Bears. If anything, sitting made Cal even more antsy, none more than first baseman Valerie Arioto, who had to wait roughly five hours between pitches to hit.

"Sometimes it can be difficult, but I knew that this team was on a mission," said Bears head coach Diane Ninemire. "They knew what they needed to do. They kept their focus tonight."

The Pac-12 Player of the Year was walked intentionally three times in Cal's 3-2 loss to upstart Arkansas in the 3 PM game and her first time at the dish against Boston (41-16) before finally getting something to hit, and when she did, she didn't miss.

Arioto led off the top of the third with a ringing scorcher just over the outstretched glove of Terriers shortstop Brittany Clendenny and into the left center field gap for a double. With Cal up 1-0 on Jones's longball, Arioto advanced to third on a well-placed groundout by senior second baseman Jace Williams, coming home to score on a sacrifice fly to right by Breana Kostreba.

Arioto was touched up for two runs in one third on an inning in the earlier contest, and was finally able to contribute to a winning effort with her 2-for-2 game at the dish.

"I was ready to hit whatever came my way," Arioto said. "I just wanted to do this for my team and contribute in some way ... It was a little frustrating not being able to contribute, but that just means more runners for us and more opportunities for us to get hits and get runs."

In the top of the fourth, Jones scorched the first pitch she saw from Boston reliever Holli Floetker into the left center field gap for a double, and then rode home on a single up the middle by Frani Echavarria.

"Victoria really got our team going with that home run and we had several hits by several people tonight, so it was a total team effort," said Ninemire.

In the top of the fifth, Arioto smacked a single to right to lead off the fame, and advanced to second on another productive groundout to first from Williams. On a 2-2 offering from Floetker, Kostreba sent a sharp grounder to short, where Brittany Clendenny tried to erase Arioto at third. Her throw was late, though, putting two runners on for Cheyenne Cordes. Cordes sent a sacrifice fly to center, scoring Arioto and allowing pinch runner Elia Reid to advance all the way to third.

With her big sister humming on the mound, freshman Danielle Henderson ripped a 1-2 pitch into the left center field gap for an RBI double, putting Cal up 5-0.

Reliever Erin Schuppert took the slab in the top of the sixth, and promptly hit Echavarria with a payoff pitch, setting the stage for Jamia Reid. The senior left fielder sent a 1-1 chopper over the circle, where Clendenny smothered the ball and flipped late to second. With two runners on, designated player Britt Vonk dropped a single into shallow left to load the bases for Arioto.

Schuppert pitched around the single-season Cal home run record holder, walking Arioto to force in a run. A 1-0 wild pitch to Williams scored another run, after which the senior second baseman sent a run-scoring groundout to second.

All Jolene Henderson needed to do was shut down the Terriers in the bottom of the inning for the Bears' second mercy-rule win in as many days, and Jolene the Machine did just that, giving up a one-out infield single to Erica Casacci before getting third baseman Megan Volpano to ground out to short and striking out Clendenny to end the game.

Henderson's off-speed and breaking pitches completely baffled Boston hitters, as she worked both sides of the plate and changed speeds effectively off of her blazing fastball.

"Her change up was keeping them off balance tonight," Ninemire said.

Ninemire was coy when asked which of her two hurlers would start the first game against the Razorbacks at 5 PM on Sunday.

"We'll wait and see tomorrow," smirked the 25th-year skipper.

"All season long, Valerie and I have both been producing a lot, pitching a lot for the team, so don't think that three in two days is going to make a huge difference," said the elder Henderson. "I have to go out every day, and I know the team's strong behind me, so whether I throw well or I don't, I know my team's going to be behind me, strong. So, when the adrenaline rush wears off and I feel a bit of fatigue, they're going to be strong behind me, and I don't have worries."

Once again, Arioto added her own coda.

"She's being modest, too," Arioto smiled. "She's a workhorse."


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