Cal U softball team embraces early perfection
Success is nothing unusual for the California (Pa.) softball team. A 14-0 start, though, is new territory.
“It's been unreal,” said freshman pitcher/first baseman Lindsay Reicoff, a Chartiers Valley graduate. “We go into each game with the same mentality, like it's the championship game each time you play.”
Cal, ranked 12th in the country, is one of three unbeaten teams in Division II. Coach Rick Bertagnolli, who has won two national titles and owns a 681-221 record during his 20 years at Cal, admits the career-best start has caught him off guard.
“That's a huge surprise for any coach in any sport,” he said. “You go out to win every game, but it just doesn't happen considering the competition you play.”
The Vulcans, who open PSAC play against Mercyhurst on Wednesday, have outscored opponents, 99-32. The 15-player roster features no seniors and seven freshmen, several of whom are playing key roles.
Reicoff leads the team with a .500 average, three homers and 15 RBI. Pitcher/outfielder Alex Sagl is 6-0 with a 0.71 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 39 2⁄3 innings.
“We're not looking to sit freshmen,” Bertagnolli said. “We had hopes for a number of them to play well. So far, they've gone above that.”
The Vulcans' balanced lineup also includes sophomore shortstop and Waynesburg graduate Breanna Morris, who has two homers and 13 RBI.
“It's a true team concept,” Bertagnolli said. “Obviously you have to have some luck and breaks to be undefeated. Everyone has contributed. It's come from up and down the order, off the bench.”
Cal has established itself as one of the premier D-II softball programs in the country, reaching the NCAA Tournament in 17 of the past 19 years. That tradition, along with the coaching staff, allows the program to go head-to-head with Division I programs for some of the top recruits.
Sagl, a native of Oakville, Ontario, said she chose Cal over Maryland and Siena. She's one of five Canadians on the roster, illustrating the imprint Bertagnolli has made over the border.
“A lot of people know who he is,” Sagl said. “He's overall just a great guy. He's taught me a lot already about my mental approach.”
Some regular-season losses probably are inevitable for the Vulcans this season. Bertagnolli is more concerned about the postseason.
“It's about championships, not winning games, but championships,” said Bertagnolli, who will be inducted into the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame this year. “It's pretty much a Western Pennsylvania thing anyway. All the teams are about championships and not winning games.”