It’s been a long road, and Bears hope it gets longer

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - COLLEGES - By Rusty Sim­mons Rusty Sim­mons is a San Francisco Chron­i­cle staff writer. Email: rsim­mons@sfchron­i­cle.com Twit­ter: @Rusty_SFChron

For most of the Cal soft­ball play­ers, Wed­nes­day’s agenda started at 2 a.m. — a wake-up call that al­lowed them to get to cam­pus by 3:30, jump on a 6:20 flight to At­lanta and ride a bus through traf­fic for nearly two hours on the way to Athens, Ga.

“I didn’t even sleep,” ju­nior pitcher Ka­malani Dung said, “but it’ll all be worth it Fri­day.”

The Bears open NCAA re­gional play against North­west­ern at 9 a.m. Fri­day, the first step in a post­sea­son jour­ney they hope will mir­ror the trek to get there — an ar­du­ous path with a re­ward­ing fin­ish.

Cal (34-19) will have to ad­vance from a pod that in­cludes North­west­ern (36-17), Har­vard (24-16) and the sev­enth over­all seed, Ge­or­gia (43-11), to get to the su­per re­gion­als, and the Bears are think­ing even big­ger.

“We know what we can do,” Dung said. “We have the tal­ent. If we get some things to fall our way, we can go re­ally far.”

Cal’s as­pi­ra­tions might not be out­landish.

The Bears went 27-3 in non­con­fer­ence play and showed well against a loaded con­fer­ence slate that in­cludes four of the top six teams in the coun­try. Cal outscored op­po­nents by 114 runs and lim­ited op­po­nents to a .218 bat­ting av­er­age.

Plus, the Bears might have a lit­tle prov­i­dence on their side.

Af­ter Cal lost its fi­nal reg­u­lar-sea­son game to No. 1 Ore­gon on Satur­day, head coach Diane Nine­mire flipped some sad faces by re­mind­ing the play­ers that the 2002 na­tional cham­pi­onship team also lost 19 games.

“Maybe that’s our lucky num­ber,” Nine­mire joked.

Coach­ing her 30th sea­son in Berke­ley and hav­ing compiled more than 1,300 wins, Nine­mire seems to have an anec­dote for ev­ery sit­u­a­tion.

She was there dur­ing seven straight trips (1999-2005) to the Col­lege World Se­ries,

in­clud­ing the cheers of a small con­tin­gent of Cal fans beat­ing back a flood of Florida State fans do­ing the school’s “war chant” dur­ing a stun­ning win in 2002.

She was there when Cal hosted its first re­gional and Su­per Re­gional in 2012.

“I’m the luck­i­est per­son in the world,” Nine­mire said. “I used to al­ways be­have in school, so I could get ex­tended re­cess. Now, I feel like I’m on per­ma­nent re­cess.”

The NFCA Hall of Famer has won two na­tional Coach of the Year hon­ors and tu­tored 19 All-Amer­ica play­ers. She’s had more than 160 all­con­fer­ence play­ers, in­clud­ing Lind­say Rood (.339), Jazmyn Jack­son (.326) and Bradie Fill­more (.276) this sea­son.

But Cal’s strength might be its pitch­ing, which in­cludes Dung, who threw a per­fect game against UTEP this sea­son, and Zoe Con­ley, who set a school record with seven saves.

“My dad al­ways says: ‘Di­a­monds are formed un­der pres­sure,’ ” Con­ley said. “I think we’re all ca­pa­ble of per­form­ing un­der pres­sure.”

Mar­cus Ed­wards / KLC Fo­tos

Ju­nior pitcher Ka­malani Dung is 18-5 this sea­son, pick­ing up more than half of Cal’s wins.

Kel­ley L Cox / KLC Fo­tos

Diane Nine­mire led Cal to the Col­lege World Se­ries each sea­son from 1999-2005, win­ning the NCAA ti­tle in 2002.

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