The No. 21 Cal softball team and other teams competing in the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic II can breathe a sigh of relief: Rain is not in the forecast for Cathedral City, California, this weekend.
After spending the non-rainy portions of last weekend’s Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic I edging out their competition with three close wins, the Bears will return to Palm Springs hoping to put up more complete performances.
Take Wednesday’s 11-0 win over St. Mary’s for an example of a thorough win. Redshirt sophomore Zoe Conley’s stellar pitching continued, limiting the Gaels lineup to just two hits. Head coach Diane Ninemire’s offense kept the line moving, resulting in a seven-run fourth inning that knocked out starter Katlyn Whitt from the game. In the end, the Bears picked up their first run-rule game of the season with solid defense (no errors in the field, compared to the Gaels’ five) and patience at the plate (five drawn walks).
While Wednesday’s routing provides Cal with a boost of confidence heading into Friday’s opening matchup with Oklahoma State, it knows that the competition only gets tougher from here. Although the Cowgirls are just 5-5 on the year, they have already played against four nationally ranked opponents in those 10 games. Oklahoma State has its own star pitcher to counter Cal’s Conley in senior Brandi Needham, who brings a sparkling 1.66 ERA and two complete game shutouts into play this weekend. Another Cowgirl to look out for is junior infielder Rylee Bayless, a two-time first-team All-American and top offensive player of last year’s National Tournament.
After Oklahoma State, the Bears will face off against what will be their toughest opponent at that point: Louisville, a high-scoring team on the brink of cracking the top 25. The Cardinals’ offense features seven hitters with a batting average of at least .300 (minimum 10 plate appearances), while senior Maryssa Becker is one of the toughest matchups in the country. A dual threat at the plate and on the rubber, Becker sports a .385 batting average and a 0.94 ERA, surrendering runs in just one of her appearances this season. Did I mention that she leads the team in home runs?
Cal will finish up Saturday’s play with an evening showdown against Nebraska, loser of eight straight games to begin the season. The Cornhuskers’ struggles can be attributed to an offensive drought that has led to a team batting average of just .191. But this could very well turn into a game where the underdog lets loose and finds its rhythm against a ranked team, so the Bears must focus on not letting this one get away from them.
Sunday’s late-morning finale features Ohio State, another prolific offensive team that could give Cal trouble. The Buckeyes recently defeated the one team that the Bears have lost to this year: UNC. Ohio State’s offense is particularly scary in the middle of its lineup, where senior slugger Alex Bayne and her six homers reside. This matchup stands out as one that Conley and the rest of Cal’s pitching staff need to be on their game for.
It’ll be an arduous weekend for the Bears, but if they are able to extend their win streak to nine games with four victories, they will send a huge message out to the rest of the softball world.
Josh Yuen covers softball. Contact him at