So far, so good.
As the No. 1 Bears continue their treacherous road through the nation’s best conference with a matchup with No. 15 UCLA Friday at Levine-Fricke Field in Berkeley, the squad can reflect on their relative dominance through this point in the season.
Cal has swept Stanford, Washington, and Utah, and taken two out of three from Arizona and Oregon. Four of those five teams are ranked in the top 20 in the country, yet the Bears have compiled a sparkling 13-2 conference record.
Last weekend’s series win against No. 8 Oregon kept the Bears in the No. 1 spot in the rankings for the fifth consecutive week.
“We like the high expectations,” second baseman Jace Williams said. “Everyone wants to beat the number one team, so we get to see everybody’s best game. It keeps us on our toes.”
But the Bruins are a dangerous squad, completely capable of knocking the queen Bears off of their seemingly untouchable throne.
“They’re always a tough squad,” Williams said. “We definitely need to limit our errors and just play our game.”
Save for a sweep at the hands of No. 3 Arizona State, UCLA has won each of its Pac-12 series on the year to date.
The Bruins have been especially hot as of late, going 7-2 against Stanford, Washington, and Utah.
Meanwhile, most of the challenges the Bears have faced this season have been in the form of pitchers’ duels; Oregon, Washington, and Arizona all featured outstanding hurlers who held Cal to one or two runs at least once in their series.
But UCLA is a whole different animal. Despite only sporting a 4.69 ERA in conference play, the Bruins have found success in their extremely potent offense.
UCLA possesses a .359 team batting average, the best mark in the entire country. But the Bruins don’t just hit for average; their .621 slugging percentage also leads all teams in Division I.
Leading the charge for UCLA is National Player of the Year candidate Stephany LaRosa. LaRosa sports an outrageous .456/.494/.859 slash line with 15 home runs. The freshman from Diamond Bar, Calif., has supplemented her outstanding offense by playing a solid third base for the Bruins.
Centerfielder Katie Schroeder has been an ideal leadoff hitter for UCLA. Schroeder has hit .437 with a .550 on base percentage, often setting the table for LaRosa to drive her in. Her 15 steals in 17 attempts show that she can easily put herself in scoring position after getting on base.
All of this will be a lot for Cal pitchers Jolene Henderson and Valerie Arioto to handle. Although Henderson and Arioto have been dominant, the Bruin offense is unlike any the duo has seen this season.
The two star hurlers for the Bears will need to be at peak performance this weekend to make sure each game does not turn into a slugfest, which may be the only type of game Cal is ill-equipped for. Although the Bears have had no trouble scoring double-digit runs against mid-major opponents, lighting up the scoreboard against top 20 opponents has been more of a challenge. After putting up more than 10 runs eight times prior to the start of the Pac-12 slate, Cal has only managed to do so once against a top-25 Pac-12 opponent.
But if the Bears’ pitching staff can prove its worthiness against the best offense in the land, there is little else Cal can do to assert its authority as national title frontrunners.