College Softball - Results from the Kajikawa

Michigan at LSU Softball

College Softball - Results from the Kajikawa Classic


The first week of the college softball season usually has its surprises and upsets. Things happen that you don’t expect to happen and teams lose to teams that you don’t expect them to lose to. It often can leave coaches and fans scratching their heads or have a look of amazement on their faces wondering what’s wrong, although there are still many games left and hoping things will turn around.

But that’s college softball, where teams hope to get off to a good start and pick up momentum throughout the season and possibly earn a berth in the NCAA Championship. In between a lot happens on the ball field and this past weekend of season-opening tournaments (29 scheduled between February 9-12) was a classic example of what can happen to the amazement of fans, coaches and players who are all anticipating starting the season off on the right foot or on the left foot if you are a southpaw.

Arizona, for example, lost only one one-run game all last season, 3-2 to Baylor on March 12, 2011. The Wildcats also hadn’t dropped two games in one day since 2008 when they lost to Northwestern (8-5) and Texas A&M (3-2) on Feb. 16 in the first games of 2008 at the Kajikawa Classic. This year, the Classic had 75 games played in four days on five different fields and is one of the nation’s largest and premier tourneys. This year also marked the third year in the last five that Arizona has recorded at least two losses in the first three games. In 2009, the team started 1-2 with losses to Kansas and Northwestern and in 2008 the team started 0-3 with losses to Northwestern, Texas A&M and Nevada.

After opening with an 8-1 win over McNeese State, the Wildcats lost twice on day two of the tourney in games entirely different, 2-1 to Georgia Tech and 11-10 to Nebraska.  A bright spot for the Wildcats was Lini Koria who tied an Arizona record with her third homer of the game with one out in the top of the seventh inning to cut the Cornhuskers’ lead to two.

After the two losses, the Wildcats mercy-ruled Syracuse 11-1 (five innings) the next day before losing by one to Texas A&M 5-4 before concluding the Classic 3-3 by defeating Cal State Northridge, 8-0, in six innings behind Babcock’s  three-hitter on Sunday. She’s now 2-3. 

Senior transfer Jessica Spigner pitched and hit UA to the win over Syracuse. Spigner, who pitched in high school, limited Syracuse to three hits and retired the last 10 batters she faced in the five-inning win. She supported herself with a three-run homer in the first inning and a sacrifice fly in the fifth.

Spigner has volunteered to join Shelby Babcock (1-3) on the mound because ace Kenzie Fowler is still bothered by back issues. Said UA coach Mike Candrea about Spigner, “she’ll throw some innings for us. She did a pretty good job. She kept them off-balance. She’s a competitor… and she can hit, yeah.”

Said Spigner, “we really need (Fowler) and Shelby both healthy, so if that means pitching a couple of games in the preseason, I’m more than willing to do that if they are going to be healthier during the season and postseason.  Even when we lost, we are doing better at fighting and competing, and that is what Coach wanted us to do. We are not going to dwell on it. We’re going to come out and get after it. We’re definitely close.”

The Kajikawa Classic host team Arizona State, ranked No. 1 in some polls including the CollegeSportsMadness pre-season rankings, lost two games on the weekend and finished 5-2 beating Cal Poly 8-0 (five innings) on Sunday. The two losses represent a third of the games the Sun Devils lost all of last season, finishing 60-6.  

Tennessee, which has one of his best teams in recent years, blanked the Sun Devils 3-0 and McNeese State allowed the Sun Devils only one run in a 3-1 victory. ASU Sophomore pitcher Dallas Escobedo, who lost only three games against 37 wins last season, was 1-1 with an ERA of  3.82, allowing 12 hits and eight runs in 14.2 innings and striking out 22. She has allowed three homers after giving up 22 last year. Senior hurler Hillary Bach is 3-0 with 17 strikeouts in 19.1 innings and a perfect ERA. Bach, 10-0 last year, is also an outstanding student, having completed the W.P. Carey Business School at ASU in three years and is now working on a Master’s degree, which she will receive in 2013.

Arizona State opened the Classic Thursday blanking Western Michigan 10-0 (6) and San Jose State, 4-0, before facing the Volunteers. In the ASU loss to Tennessee Saturday, Big Orange sophomore pitcher Ellen Renfroe allowed seven hits, one walk and fanned six  to remain unbeaten (4-0), posting a perfect 0.00 ERA in 24 innings with 36 strikeouts.

The win marked the second straight season that the Big Orange downed a No. 1 team after defeating Alabama 4-1 last March in Knoxville, and the program’s fourth victory over a No. 1 or No. 2 team over the past two seasons. Tennessee won the game without two of its top players as All-American third baseman and lead-off hitter Raven Chavanne and All-American outfielder Kat Dotson continue to recover from injury.

Tennessee then had its record evened at 1-1 losing to the California Bears 13-5, with Valerie Arioto hitting a pair of homers. Arioto, who was redshirted her true senior season last year after breaking her leg on the second day of practice, homered in her very first at-bat to centerfield and hit another homer later in the game, finishing with four RBIs. The homers were her 32nd and 33rd of her career. Jolene Henderson allowed five runs on nine hits while fanning five to get the win.  

In five of its past seven openers Cal has scored 10 or more runs and has never lost to the Lady Vols in four games, who finished the weekend 5-1 beating Western Michigan 9-6 behind six RBIs by sophomore left fielder Melissa Davin. Renfroe improved to 5-0, striking out 12 while allowing five earned runs on six hits in a gutsy complete game performance.

Cal coach Diane Ninemire, in her 25th year at Cal, is optimistic about the season. “We’re really excited about this year because we get Valerie Arioto back and everybody’s healthy right now. I think we have all of the pieces that we need to go really deep. It’s just a matter of going out and playing the game and getting better with every game.”

Cal made it to World Series last year for the first time since 2005 and Ninemire doesn’t want to just get there. “It’s not good enough to just get there. We need to do something there. We need to make some noise.”  Ninemire is hoping her Golden Bears make the most noise and capture the school’s second national title since 2002.

California emerged from the Classic 4-0, coming from behind to defeat scrappy Syracuse, 6-3 with three runs in the fifth and another trio in the seventh. Syracuse was 3-2 in the Classic.