BERKELEY — As an 8-year-old, Jolene Henderson was so wild on the mound she often threw the ball over the backstop.
But once she found the strike zone a couple years later, the K’s piled up quickly and now the two-time Pac-12 Conference Pitcher of the Year is determined to lead the No. 1 softball team in the country back to the Women’s College World Series.
The only thing standing between Cal (54-5) and another trip to Oklahoma City is a best-of-three super regional series with Washington (39-17) at Levine-Fricke Field in Berkeley this weekend. In a short series, the Bears like their chances with one of the country’s top pitchers on the hill.
“She’s such a strong competitor,” coach Diane Ninemire said. “It doesn’t matter if she’s sick or injured, she knows that the team relies on her heavily.”
Henderson, 20, may have never pitched if she wasn’t dozing off, picking at the grass in the outfield as a youngster.
“I was never paying attention, so they put me somewhere where they knew I’d get the ball,” Henderson said.
By high school, opponents were probably wishing Henderson had never made the move to the mound; she was named an ESPN/Under Armor All-American in back-to-back seasons (’08, ’09) at Sheldon High School in
As a college freshman, Henderson was an immediate presence on the hill, going 20-10 while producing the conference’s seventh-lowest ERA (1.81).
Last year, she stepped into a leadership role once the Bears’ other ace hurler, Valerie Arioto, was sidelined with a broken leg during the team’s first practice.
Henderson pitched all but two innings (56) during the Bears’ postseason run to the College World Series despite suffering a midseason stress fracture in her hip that put her on crutches.
“I got off [crutches] on Thursday and pitched against ASU on Friday,” she said.
Henderson was the horse the Bears rode into the super regional last weekend, too. After pitching the first game of the Berkeley Regional, Henderson returned to the hill the next day to toss 6²⁄³ innings in relief of Arioto, who was dinged for a pair of early runs in a 3-2 loss to Arkansas. She then threw another 18 innings in a 27-hour span to save Cal from elimination with three straight wins.
“I just had to step up and pitch,” Henderson said. “There’s no way our team was not going to make it to super regionals this year.”
WHEN: Game 1, Saturday, 7 p.m.; Game 2, Sunday, 4 p.m.; Game 3, Sunday, 6:30 p.m. (if necessary)
WHERE: Levine-Fricke Field, Berkeley
FORMAT: Best-of-three series with winner advancing to Women’s College World Series