Cal softball falls in snow-shortened series with No. 15 Utah

Michael Wan/File

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Everyone loves a good snowball fight. The joy of landing a solid hit only to face retaliation brings out the juvenile kid in everybody. Like all sports matchups, a snowball fight that is dominated by one side is less interesting and dramatic than one that features two sides who are in it until the very end. Playing in Utah after a long homestand in Berkeley, the Cal softball team experienced its first snow day of the year, but not before its struggles in conference play continued.

In it’s snow-shortened, two-game series with No. 15 Utah (26-7, 8-2), the Bears (22-13, 3-8) fell just short of a crucial victory in the series opener, only to fall flat the next day in a 12-2 five-inning rout by the Utes. It’s been a bumpy road for the Bears ever since conference play began, as Pac-12 teams not named Stanford have rolled over Cal with relative ease in the early going. So while the Bears displayed their resilience coming back from being down five runs late in the game in Friday’s 7-6 nailbiter, they will leave Salt Lake City with a dismal 3-8 conference record after Sunday’s finale was canceled.

The weekend began with a hard-fought contest that nearly resulted in the Bears’ biggest comeback victory of their season. Redshirt sophomore Zoe Conley issued six walks before being removed in the fourth inning with Cal trailing 6-1, as the Utes’ patience atop its lineup gave junior pitcher Katie Donovan a five-run cushion.

The Bears, however, didn’t give in when their ace struggled in the circle. Junior infielder Jazmyn Jackson drew three walks in the game, displaying the patience that Cal’s lineup has lacked in recent weeks against conference foes. Sophomore leadoff hitter Lindsay Rood collected two hits atop the lineup and senior Vanessa Alvarez capped off the Bears’ five-run fifth inning with a two-run triple.

Despite its furious rally to tie the game, Cal was unable to knock in Alvarez to take the lead, giving the Utes a chance to reclaim control with the game knotted at six. Like any softball powerhouse would, Utah took advantage of a leadoff single from senior Hannah Flippen to begin the home half of the sixth, as junior Heather Bowen knocked in Flippen with an RBI double off senior Katie Sutherland-Finch. With the Bears unable to muster another late-inning comeback, they ultimately missed out on a big chance to make a statement.

As tough as Friday’s defeat may have been, Cal showed an improvement in one crucial area that it has struggled with, which is timely hitting against tough pitching. Rather than build off of their performance, however, the Bears stumbled in game two in just about every way possible. Aside from a Jackson RBI triple in the third, not much fell Cal’s way as the Utes launched four home runs off of Bear pitching, the last of which was a grand slam by freshman catcher Kelly Martinez that clinched a run-rule victory for Utah.

With Sunday’s game canceled, Cal will have a 13-day break from Pac-12 competition, as its next opponents will include Santa Clara, Fresno State and Sacramento State. These games will provide an opportunity to turn the Bears’ season around before they begin a series with UCLA on April 21.

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