No. 18 Bears look to unearth No. 1 Gators as part of Judi Garman Classic

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In the animal kingdom, different species live in close proximity. In order to establish dominance over the rest in the fight for limited resources, certain animals lay claim to and protect territory that they believe is rightfully theirs. The battle for territorial dominance doesn’t go uncontested, as groups of species make a run for the top of the kingdom’s hierarchy.

This weekend, the No. 18 Bears (13-1) look to continue their hot start in the Judi Garman Classic, where they will receive a shot at the current top dog in all of Division I softball: No. 1 Florida (16-1). Territorial stakes will be high, as an all-out battle between East and West coast foes is set to be a significant tone-setter heading into conference play.

“(Florida) has been one of the perennial powerhouses in softball the last four years,” head coach Diane Ninemire said. “This will be a very big test for us, but one that we embrace.”

Cal will open the weekend against Northwestern (3-10) on Friday, followed by the main event against Florida as part of a double-header. The Bears will also take on Iowa (2-8) for a Saturday night showdown and conclude the tournament against Indiana (6-8) on Sunday.

The Wildcats are no strangers to playing against competitive teams this season, having faced six top-25 squads already. The team is led by dual-threat sophomore Kenzie Ellis, who leads the team in ERA and is second in RBI.

Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes have dropped seven straight games after beginning the year 2-0, but they have lost four of their past five contests by just one run. Iowa takes on three Pac-12 schools as part of this weekend’s tournament.

While not from the animal kingdom in terms of mascots, the Hoosiers still represent the biggest threat outside of Florida to challenge the Bears’ recent run of dominance this weekend. The Indiana lineup is led by junior Taylor Uden, who leads the team in at-bats (45) and hits (12).

Overall, the Bears have nothing to worry about against opponents not from Florida. The Gators possess offensive firepower in redshirt freshman Sophia Reynoso and junior Kayli Kvistad, hitting .465 and .436, respectively. Additionally, Florida pitching is arguably the best in the country, having allowed just one run in Florida’s last eight games. One.

That’s not all: All of the Gators’ pitchers have an ERA less than or equal to 0.88. How is a team supposed to beat that? But as evidenced in Florida’s lone loss to Maryland, the Gators aren’t invincible. The Terrapins took advantage of minimal scoring chances on their way to a 4-2 upset.

Zoe Conley, the presumed starter for the Bears, will need to have a solid outing to give her team a chance against Florida’s pitching staff. The offense has been rolling of late, putting up nine first-inning runs in Wednesday’s 13-5 win over Pacific.

“We come out strong all the time, but we really need to keep our momentum going throughout the game, so we keep on putting up runs,” Rood said.

Bears. Gators. The animal kingdom at its finest in an early-season showdown. Who will lay claim to their territory first?

Josh Yuen covers softball. Contact him at [email protected].