Conley takes no-hit bid into seventh, Cal softball holds on 2-0 over Hornets

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Phillip Downey/File

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In her first season playing for her hometown school, redshirt sophomore Zoe Conley was expected to be a critical part of Cal softball’s core of pitchers. She has not only become the team’s ace but has been arguably the Bears’ most valuable player this year, keeping her team in front during multiple close games even with the offense struggling to generate runs. On Wednesday, she continued to build upon her impressive resume and nearly etched herself into the Cal softball record books.

It’s been a dream year for Conley, and her season-long ascendancy continued in Cal’s road matchup at Sacramento State (14-23-1). She came out firing on all cylinders and entered the seventh inning three outs away from throwing the 76th no-hitter in Cal softball history. The last Bear to throw a no-hitter was Conley’s teammate Katie Sutherland-Finch, who no-hit Santa Clara on April 14, 2015 in a five-inning game where the run-rule came into effect. But after back-to-back singles erased her would-be moment with history, and after working with only a two-run cushion, she was forced to bear down and seal a much-needed victory.

In the end, Conley settled for a two-hit 2-0 shutout, a game in which she had just one walk as a blemish on her pitching line heading into the game’s final inning. She escaped the jam by inducing a game-ending double play to seal her team-high 16th win on the year.

Although the Cal offense didn’t provide Conley with the largest room for error, it took a creative 1-0 lead in the third inning on a squeeze bunt by sophomore Lindsay Rood. The sacrifice scored senior Kylie Reed, who had just notched her first triple of the year. The Bears were able to extend their lead in the sixth when Rood scored on senior Khala Taylor’s RBI single.

Facing a formidable opponent in No. 14 UCLA (30-12) this weekend, it will be interesting to see how the Bears perform after seeing their ace dominate from start to finish. The Bruins, currently ranked fifth in the Pac-12, have struggled after beginning conference play with two straight wins at No. 10 Washington. They recently lost two of three to Oregon State on the road before silencing Cal State Fullerton, 7-3, on Tuesday.

UCLA’s season has featured two separate six-game winning streaks (as well as an additional two five-game winning streaks), but with a 5-7 conference record, the Bruins have a lot of work to do to catch up to those atop the standings. UCLA’s lineup will likely have to deal with Conley, who began her collegiate career in nearby Northridge, at least once or twice this weekend.

For now, it looks as if the Bears will continue riding their red-hot pitching staff, which has allowed just one run in the team’s past four games after surrendering 19 total runs in a two-game road series with Utah. While Conley’s performance may have come up just short, just watching their teammate compete the way she did Wednesday should inspire the Bears as they travel to Los Angeles.

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