Danielle Henderson and teammates will offer a pregame wave, a smile and maybe even a wink to their formidable opponent, but the former Cal slugger from Elk Grove made one thing clear.
This will not be taken lightly. Henderson and company aim to win.
She and the Sacramento Rush All-Stars will take on the U.S. national team in a softball doubleheader at Raley Field on Thursday night. A crowd of 5,000 is expected for the 6 and 8 p.m. games to see how college stars of yesterday and today will fare against the best players in the country as the U.S. readies for a run at the 2020 Tokyo Games. USA Softball will this summer also compete in Japan and in the World Cup of Softball XII in Oklahoma City.
Henderson admires the talent of USA Softball, but she lives to compete, never mind that Sheldon’s 2011 Bee Player of the Year played her last collegiate game in 2015.
“I had to shake off some rust here at first,” the third baseman said with a laugh after taking batting practice at American River College on Wednesday. “And we’re competitors. We have a team here. We’re not going to Raley Field just for fun. It’s not just a feel-good thing. It’s not just us thinking we’re playing the USA Team, let them win for our country. We’re trying to make them better because we’ll be rooting for them (down the road).”
The Bee’s 2015 Player of the Year is also on the Rush All-Stars – Morgan Lamb of Boise State by way of Elk Grove. The roster also includes players from Sacramento State, Texas and Florida and places in between.
The Rush is coached by one of the region’s all-time softball greats, Lyndsey Klein, who played at Oakmont, Sacramento City College, UCLA and later on the national team.
“We’re excited, and we have a great team that will give the USA team a run for their money,” Klein said. “To have that kind of crowd coming just shows how popular the sport has become. It’s so neat to see. You look at the talent we have and the two local players on the USA team and it shows how much of a hotbed Sacramento is. The talent is just insane.”
The U.S. team includes pitcher Ally Carda, a prep star at Pleasant Grove and a four-year ace at UCLA who finished her college career in 2015. Shortstop Ali Aguilar played at Casa Roble and dazzled with infield plays this past season at Washington, one of the top teams in the country.
Tickets are $25. Parking is free. The doubleheader includes a youth clinic, another way to expand the growing brand of this sport. A meet and greet with fans and U.S. players Wednesday night sold out.
“I’m so glad softball is back in the Olympics and that it continues to grow,” Henderson said. “You can see it all in softball: the power, the speed, the accuracy of a pitch or throw, players laying out for a fly ball or a grounder. It’s a great sport.”