Coach Diane Ninemire didn’t have a single hole to plug on her Cal softball team heading into the season, every starter from last year’s Women’s College World Series squad returned.
She also brought in three highly touted freshmen who’ve been key to the Bears’ stirring run back to college softball’s big dance this year. Despite their youth, Breana Kostreba, Danielle Henderson and Cheyenne Cordes all figure to be in the starting lineup when No. 1 Cal (56-5) faces off against LSU (38-24) at 12:30 p.m. today in the opening round of the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.
“I don’t recall ever having three freshmen that have made such significant contributions right off the bat,” Ninemire said.
If softball recruits were rated like football players, each freshman would have likely received five stars. Cordes was last year’s California Gatorade Player of the Year and an ESPN Rise first-team All-American at Rodriguez High School in Fairfield. Kostreba, the 2011 Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League MVP, completed her career at Aptos High School with a .580 batting average and 47 home runs, and Danielle Henderson — the younger sister of standout pitcher Jolene Henderson — was a three-time first-team All-Delta River League selection at Sheldon High School in Sacramento.
All three were penciled into the Bears’ starting lineup on opening day against Tennessee.
“I didn’t expect [to start], I knew I’d have to work hard for it,” Kostreba said.
Kostreba earned the chance to start all but five games this year and she didn’t hesitate to make noise with her bat. She’s currently hitting .308 with 13 home runs and 42 RBIs.
Henderson is second on the team in home runs (15) behind Valerie Arioto, who set a club record with 23.
Cordes, who’s started all 61 games, has struggled at the plate (.258), but she made her biggest contribution last Sunday by driving home the only runs in the Bears’ super regional-clinching win (2-0) over Washington.
With two outs in the fifth and the score tied at 0-0, Cordes cracked a two-run homer over the left-field scoreboard at Berkeley’s Levine-Fricke Field.
“This season hasn’t been my greatest, so I was just going up there trying to hit the ball hard,” she said.
Cordes said the freshmen’s success is a reflection of the team’s senior leadership.
“For us freshmen, this is the first time we’ve experienced playing all these games, feeling our bodies hurt. It’s just really nice having those upperclassmen there for us,” she said.
Ninemire said she isn’t too concerned about freshman jitters in Oklahoma City because each player has experience playing in national or international tournaments.
“They’ve been on that stage before, so they’re geared up for it,” she said.