An exemplary start to the 2017 season for the No. 23 Cal softball team has quickly begun to devolve into a living nightmare. Plagued by their inability to manufacture more than a handful of runs, if any at all, the Bears’ perception as a ballclub has shifted from that of an overachieving and underestimated group worthy of greater consideration to one which perfectly adheres to the number placed beside its school’s name.
The past two weeks of play for the Bears have highlighted the team’s most glaring problems as a team, namely their inability to generate runs against elite pitching and, in a broader sense, compete with nationally ranked teams.
Amid its struggle to cross the barren wasteland of an offensive drought, Cal might finally have an oasis in sight and an opportunity to re-establish a pattern of winning that they crafted in the season’s first handful of ballgames. That oasis has arrived in the form of Sacramento State’s Shea Stadium.
Cal will travel up north to the capital of the Golden State to take on the Hornets, which currently hold a record 10-13-1, in what should be the prototypical get-right game. On paper, the Bears head into Sacramento as the superior ballclub, and despite the team’s string of offensively barren games, Wednesday presents a golden opportunity to right the ship.
Cal has only managed to score seven runs over the course of its past six contests. Of those matchups, the Bears were held to one run or less in four, and, against a very hittable Lehigh rotation, the Bears only managed to scrape together three runs on four hits and were held scoreless through the first four frames on their home turf.
The Bears will face another equally hittable Hornet rotation, one which will enter Wednesday’s action with a cumulative ERA of 3.33, which is respectable but not elite by any stretch of the imagination. Despite allowing two runs or fewer in four of their last five games, Sacramento State allowed seven runs on 11 hits while committing three errors in a 7-2 loss to Cal Poly. Exposed and vulnerable, the Hornets will be a perfect meal for a malnourished Cal offense ripe for the picking.
Of course, the Hornets will not simply bow down, especially with an offense known to sting opposing pitchers in one way or another. Sacramento State’s calling card is the home run ball, totaling 20 on the season, five more than they hit all of last year, compared to Cal’s three.
A rising star stands at the head of Sacramento State’s offensive charge in freshman Suzy Brookshire, who leads the club with seven home runs and a .750 slugging percentage. Brookshire currently stands one long ball away from tying the school record of most home runs in a single season by a freshman, a record the sensation will shatter at her current pace.
Cal’s pitching staff will look to shake off a horrid Sunday performance in which they allowed a season-high 10 runs while succumbing to the mercy rule after five innings. Ace of staff redshirt sophomore Zoe Conley will look erase a forgetful weekend, one in which she allowed 11 earned runs, walked nine batters in 9.1 innings and added two more losses to her name.
Justice delos Santos covers softball. Contact him at [email protected]