BERKELEY - For the last few weeks of the regular season, the Cal softball team operated under the assumption that every game would prove critical when it came to whether or not the Bears would be invited to participate in the NCAA Tournament for the 30th time in program history.
On Sunday, that late-season urgency paid off as Cal found out it will head to Tuscaloosa, Ala. to participate in the Regional round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament. The Bears will be joined by No. 6 seed Alabama, Texas State and Samford in a double-elimination bracket that will begin for Cal on Friday with a 12:30 p.m. (PT) game against Texas State.
Cal's spot in the postseason came courtesy of a young group that evolved and grew as the season went on. At 31-22-1, the Bears went 11-5 over their last 16 games and finished with a Pac-12 record of 11-11-1 that placed them sixth in one of the nation's most competitive conferences.
Along the way, several Bears established themselves among the nation's best. Senior Nisa Ontiveros led the way in the circle, posting a 1.91 ERA to finish as the only pitcher in the Pac-12 with a sub-2.00 mark. Sophomore Jazmyn Jackson and junior Kylie Reed finished 1-2 in the Pac-12 in hits while freshman Lindsay Rood was the conference's top thief on the basepaths, finishing with 21 steals on the season.
Statistics alone aren't enough to describe the big moments that got the Bears back to the postseason. A thrilling comeback against fellow postseason team Notre Dame provided the biggest early season highlight as Cal came back from seven runs down in the seventh inning to beat the Fighting Irish 8-7 at the Kajikawa Classic. One week later, Ontiveros provided a glimpse of the season to come when she shut down a ranked Kentucky squad for a big win at the Campbell/Cartier Classic in San Diego.
Cal provided plenty of memorable moments in Pac-12 play as well. A road sweep of Stanford helped Ontiveros earn national player of the week honors from espnW and an offensive explosion in the next to last home game of 2016 led the Bears to a memorable 15-4 win over No. 3-ranked Oregon. On the final weekend of the season, Cal shook off the heat of the desert to pick up an important road win over No. 18/21 Arizona. Eight Pac-12 teams were selected for the tournament, demonstrating again the strength of one of the nation's traditional power conferences.
Getting back to the postseason is a familiar feeling for the Bears under head coach Diane Ninemire. Now in her 29th season, Cal has reached the NCAA Tournament in 28 seasons under their longtime skipper and the Bears have appeared in all but five NCAA Softball tournaments since the sport became sponsored by the organization in 1982.
Updated information on the NCAA Regional round will be available through CalBears.com throughout the week. And, for a behind-the-scenes look at the Bears as they head to the NCAA Tournament, follow Cal Softball on Twitter and Instagram (@CalSoftball).