Cal U softball glory expected to play on
Somewhat forgotten in the athletic activity taking place at California University of Pennsylvania this spring is the fact that it is another softball season. Dominating Cal U's desired space on the sports pages has been three current coaching searches — football, women's volleyball, women's soccer — and the baseball team's much anticipated and delayed debut at the new ballpark in Washington, Pa.
For California University, softball has been nothing but athletic gold since 1989. The NCAA consecutive national championships won by this program in 1997 and 1998 have made the expectations of the Cal U softball program similar to those possessed by Pittsburgh Steelers fans. Though the beloved football team in the black and gold uniforms has not won a Super Bowl since 1980, the Steelers' extraordinary success of the 1970s made any season not culminating with a Super Bowl appearance and victory somewhat disappointing.
The same can be said about Vulcan softball. Unlike the Steelers, Cal U softball has never missed the post-season since attaining greatness.
In his ninth season as the Cal U softball head coach, Rick Bertagnolli hopes to guide the team to a 14th straight PSAC-West title and 13th consecutive NCAA post-season appearance. The 1997 and 1998 National Coach of the Year, Bertagnolli's career record at Cal U counting 16 games this season is 360-81 (.816). Even more impressive is Bertagnolli's almost surreal 153-9 (.944) cumulative record against the PSAC-West, which included a 89-divisional win streak from 1994 through 1999. Bertagnolli's18-year coaching record is 623-131 (.826).
Linda Kalafatis, now in her sixth year as the head softball coach at Ohio State, guided Cal U softball from 1989 through 1993. Her overall Cal U record was 175-53-1 and she won 45 of 50 PSAC-West games. The PSAC-West softball schedule went from 10 games to a 20-game format in1995. Kalafatis was inducted into the Cal U Athletic Hall of Fame last spring.
Bertagnolli has led Cal U softball to all five of their NCAA Regional titles (1994, 1996-1999) and five of the team's six PSAC conference titles (1996-2000). The high expectations of Cal U softball fans were brought back to reality last spring when the school finished third at both the PSAC tourney and NCAA Regional after a 31-5 regular season.
If the first 16 games of 2002 are any indication, Cal U seems to again be a serious contender to win back its post-season championships from fierce PSAC-East rival Bloomsburg.
Following a sweep of Clarion on April 7, Cal U was 14-2 overall and 4-0 in the PSAC-West.
Cal U is the 14-team PSAC's early leader in team batting average (.375) and team ERA (0.96).
While the days of All-American power-pitcher Danielle Penner literally dominating entire seasons are over, this year's team may have Cal U's deepest pitching staff ever. Penner was 94-6 overall during her final two seasons while Cal U as a whole was 100-12.
Sophomore Maggie Fricko, last spring's PSAC-West Rookie of the Year, is 4-1 with a 0.81 ERA. She is also the PSAC's 15th-best hitter with a .378 batting average and six home runs. Senior Rose Walsh is 3-0 with a 0.60 ERA while junior Amber Riegel is 3-1 with a 1.29 ERA. Riegel is also batting .371 with four long balls.
Senior Daysha Grimes, a pitcher and infielder from Carmichaels, is 2-0 on the mound with a 1.26 ERA and is the league's fifth-best hitter with a .408 batting average and 21 RBI.
The PSAC's leader is Vulcans sophomore Kimmie Miller from Chartiers-Houston High School. Miller is batting .491.
Senior Melissa Brooks, coming off an injury-filled 2001 season after being named the PSAC-West Player of the Year in 2000, is batting .400. She is 2-0 on the mound and the fourth Vulcan batting .400 or higher is sophomore Gabrielle Rendin (.400). She received PSAC-West Player of the Week honors Monday. Fricko was the first PSAC-West Pitcher of the Week for 2002.
"I am very pleased with our start," said Bertagnolli, whose previous collegiate coaching stints were at South Carolina-Spartanburg, S.C., and Wabash Valley Community College, Ill. "We have a lot of good pitchers this season and plan on using them. This year's team has been swinging the bats a lot better and sooner than we have done in the past couple of seasons. There are plenty of teams out there and we will just worry about who our next opponent is. When you start looking ahead you start getting beat."
The players may change but the winning ways of California University of Pennsylvania softball remains a constant under Bertagnolli. But who is the new football coach going to be and when is the baseball team going to call the new field home• We already know the Steelers open at New England on Sept. 9.