Cal softball welcomes Utah for 3-game series

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Zach Ryan/Staff

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The month of April has been tough so far for the Cal softball team (16-14-1). With a 2-2 record in their first week, the Bears are looking for more wins to help hold on to their winning record. Their newest challenge will come in the form of a Utah team (22-11) that has yet to face the possible wrath of April.

The Utes, thus far, are ranked No. 2 in the Pac-12, having beaten Oregon State in three games and having lost two of three against No. 18 Arizona. Utah’s win over Arizona, in addition to its tight 1-0 loss to then-No. 1 ranked Florida earlier in the season, proves that it has what it takes to compete with top national contenders.

At the plate, the Utes rely upon sophomore Heather Bowen and juniors Hannah Flippen and Anissa Urtez, who together have combined for 72 of their team’s 157 total RBIs. Flippen and Urtez also boast Utah’s top two batting averages at .417 and .414, respectively.  For a Bears’ pitching staff that has faced a lot of trouble shutting down hard hitting opponents, the Utes, whose team batting average is .312, could pose a problem.

“Utah is a great hitting team and they will take advantage of every situation,” said Cal head coach Diane Ninemire. “They’re very aggressive. We are going to have to be on our toes and play sharp defense.”

Flippen, a second baseman, was also recently awarded the NCAA National Player of the Week by ESPNW thanks to hitting four home runs and a double in eight at-bats.

In the circle, the Utes rely almost exclusively on three pitchers: freshman Hailey Hilburn and sophomores Katie Donovan and Miranda Viramontes. Donovan boasts a 1.80 ERA and 92 strikeouts — more than half of her pitching staff’s total. Viramontes and Hilburn are no strangers to the art of the strikeout, either, compiling 53 and 20, respectively.

Cal’s hitting cannot afford to be off in order to avoid falling prey to Utah’s skill in the circle. In their last three-game series, the Bears saw solid hitting performances from sophomore Kobie Pettis and junior Kylie Reed. It is imperative that Pettis and Reed, in addition to Cal’s other reliable hitters such as sophomore Taurie Pogue and freshman Lindsay Rood, come out with strong bats if they want to earn some much needed wins.

“We’ve got to stay ahead in a hitter’s count. We sometimes get a little lackadaisical at the plate. We have to swing at the good pitches and let the bad ones go by,” Ninemire said.

The Bears, who have compiled a whopping 39 errors so far this season, will also have to clean up their fielding against Utah if they don’t want to give away unearned runs.

“Utah is good in all phases of their game so we will have a tough series, but we are up for the challenge and we hope that we can come out on top,” Ninemire said.

Sophie Goethals covers softball. Contact her at [email protected]