Undefeated Cal looks to feast on unranked teams

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This weekend’s Cathedral City Classic boasts 10 of the nation’s top-15 teams in its highly competitive lineup. The No. 1 Cal softball team, however, will face none of these squads.

Fresh off tournament sweeps in Tempe, Ariz., and Las Vegas, Cal is looking to continue its desert hot streak in Palm Springs, Calif. The undefeated Bears will face a decidedly lopsided schedule. Unless things go awry, Cal will likely improve to 12-0 on the season.

Currently 8-0, the squad will face Fordham, Cal Poly, New Mexico State and CSUN. Unlike in the Bears’ previous tournaments, none of their opponents boast rankings. Cal has already notched victories over SEC teams in No. 9 Tennessee and No. 24 LSU. Of this weekend’s opponents, only New Mexico State has a winning record.

“All of the SEC teams are really good and make postseason a lot,” said catcher Lindsey Ziegenhirt. “They are known for good bats and good pitching, and it’s great to know that you are still on top when the other teams are really good, too. It’s good to beat quality teams regardless of conference.”

The upcoming weekend should be dramatically different as Cal faces 2-2 Fordham, 1-4 Cal Poly and 0-10 CSUN. Based on records, the 10-2 the Matadors are poised to be the most serious threat. The Cathedral City Classic marks the halfway point in Cal’s preseason tournaments, and while the Bears know that they should be able to handle these teams fairly easily, they cannot underestimate any of the matchups if they want to remain perfect.

“Our toughest opponent is always ourselves,” Ziegenhirt said. “We have to go out and play our best games and not let us beat ourselves.”

One area in which Cal would surely love to maintain a flawless record is Pac-12 Player of the Week honors. Valerie Arioto’s return from a season-long injury has been nothing short of dominant thus far.

The pitcher and first baseman snagged the conference honors for the second week in a row after her performance at the Louisville Slugger Desert Classic. She hit .875 and boasted a .929 on-base percentage. Through the season’s first eight games, she has hit a conference-leading seven home runs. Arioto also leads the Pac-12 in slugging (2.000), and is second in RBI (18), walks (11) and batting (.625).

If she and the rest of the Bears can continue their impressive play this weekend, they will be well on their way to achieving the goal of entering next month’s Pac-12 play with a spotless record.

“While we want to stay undefeated, it is a long season and we all know there are going to be some really tough games, but it’s all about where you finish, not where you start,” Ziegenhirt said. “We want to do well in every game and make it to the World Series and make our last game of the series a win. It is not necessarily a goal to go undefeated the whole season.”