No. 23 Cal softball keeps Lehigh at bay, falls flat against No. 8 Minnesota

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Michael Wan/Staff

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When fans travel with their favorite teams on the road, they’re more often than not drowned out by the home crowd. It is special, however, in those rare cases when the visiting team has a louder cheering section than the home team.

Props to the Minnesota softball team’s faithful for making that happen.

“She went around on that one!” yelled one Gopher fan.

“You can’t do that!” Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap.

A day after dismantling a Lehigh team hoping for an upset 3-0, the No. 23 Cal softball team returned to Levine-Fricke field Wednesday to take on No. 8 Minnesota, one of softball’s powerhouses. Minneapolis is nearly 2000 miles away from Berkeley, but with the Golden Gophers on an extended west coast trip for spring break, their well-traveled fans were a loud and raucous bunch Wednesday afternoon, seemingly turning the Bears’ home into their own — at least for one afternoon, with a major 10-0 win for Minnesota.

It wasn’t that the Cal side of the field was empty; an average amount of blue and gold gear was spotted in the crowd. But the Golden Gopher fans brought a unique sense of energy, which the team appeared to thrive off. Members of the Golden Gopher baseball team were among those scattered throughout the crowd, cheering in approval for the Gophers and screaming sarcastically when the Bears committed miscues. Even home plate umpire Jim Bertuzzi gave the baseball team a thumbs up of approval at the end of the game for their loud support.

Minnesota put on quite a show for its passionate fans, jumping on several Bears miscues in the third inning. With Cal ace Zoe Conley looking to help the Bears make a statement, the Minnesota offense tagged Conley for six earned runs, forcing her out after just 2.1 innings.

After retiring six in a row to start the game, Conley uncharacteristically ran into trouble with her command, sparking the Gophers with a rally after two walks and a wild-pitch. After a rare miscue by senior second baseman Kylie Reed, the Golden Gophers clobbered Conley for four consecutive hits, forcing Cal head coach Diane Ninemire to call upon senior Katie Sutherland-Finch, and ending Conley’s outing prematurely.

Sutherland-Finch limited the damage well, but not much else fell the Bears way throughout the rest of the afternoon. Gophers senior ace Sara Groenewegen pitched a gem for six innings, allowing just one hit and one walk compared to nine strikeouts, one of which brought her collegiate total to 1,000.

The week wasn’t a total loss for the Bears, however, as the team salvaged its 17th win of the year Tuesday against Lehigh behind a dominant pitching performance from senior Stephanie Trzcinski. And unlike Wednesday’s one-hit performance, the Bears found some offense in the form of star infielder Jazmyn Jackson, who hit her first home run of the year.

As nonconference play comes to a close, the Bears have a lot to build upon heading into this weekend’s series against No. 3 Oregon. Despite its recent offensive drought, a 17-5 record still keeps Cal on pace for a postseason berth. With Wednesday’s defeat feeling like a reality check to the gut, expect the Bears to regroup and hold themselves to a higher standard over the next couple of weeks.

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