Top-seeded Cal's second-round loss to Arkansas in the NCAA Berkeley softball regional turned out to be merely a hiccup.
The Golden Bears sent the Razorbacks home Sunday after victories by scores of 10-2 and 7-0, pocketing the regional title in front of 1,027 fans at Levine-Fricke Field.
Cal (54-5) will host Pac-12 rival Washington (39-17) this weekend in a best-of-three super regional series with a trip to the College World Series at stake. ESPN will announce the dates Monday.
The Huskies finished eighth in the Pac-12 but gave Cal three tough games, losing 2-1, 5-3 and 6-4 in Berkeley.
The Razorbacks (29-28), who finished tied for last in the SEC Western Division and lost 10 straight games at one point this season, were positioned to pull a monumental upset. But one day after pushing the Bears to the edge of elimination with a 3-2 victory, they were overmatched.
"You can't sleep on us," said Cal senior Frani Echavarria, who was 4 for 4 with two doubles, a grand slam and six RBIs in the opener and batted .600 for the regional. "This team will fight all the way to the end."
Junior Jolene Henderson (34-2), who struck out the final three batters to end the first game, pitched a five-hitter in the nightcap. Henderson was 4-0 with an ERA of 0.71 and 35 strikeouts in 292/3 innings in the regional.
"This is what we live for. I'm a pitcher -- I want to pitch," said Henderson, who threw 177 pitches Sunday and 424 for
The Hogs tried to work around Pac-12 Player of the Year Valerie Arioto, walking the senior from Pleasanton six times in the two games Sunday. She was given free passes -- intentionally or otherwise -- 13 times in five regional games.
Echavarria, moved up to the cleanup spot behind Arioto, made sure it didn't matter. Her first grand slam at any level caused her to tear up while rounding the bases and left her feeling vindicated.
"It's part of the game, but I think I took it personally, as well," she said of the Razorbacks walking Arioto in front of her. "As a senior I'm just trying to live out every day."
After her grand slam, fans chanted "Hip, hip Frani," a nod to Cal basketball star Jorge Gutierrez, her boyfriend, who attended the games. Her blast also caused Game 1 to be halted after five innings by the "mercy" rule.
The Bears took charge early in Game 2. They manufactured three first-inning runs on two singles, a sacrifice bunt, a fielder's choice and a wild pitch. Sophomore Ashley Decker, getting her first start in the regionals, delivered an RBI single to cap the inning.
Cal scored three more in the second when Dutch-born sophomore Britt Vonk smacked her first home run of the season -- a three-run shot -- to right-center.
In the first game, Cal freshman Danielle Henderson hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning.
Arkansas had scored its two runs when SEC Freshman of the Year Devon Wallace homered in the bottom of the third.
Washington at Cal, dates and times TBA