With nine guaranteed games left in the regular season, the Cal softball team finds itself on the outside desperately looking in. The Bears began their 2017 season ranked 24th in the country — not the highest ranking in the school’s history by any means, but a respectable standing nonetheless.
But as April gives way to May, the prestige that this group of Bears possessed before a single cleat touched dirt has all but vanished. Instead of sitting comfortably as a nationally ranked team with a guaranteed spot in the postseason, Cal’s future remains dubious heading into its series against No. 8 Washington.
The Bears began April ranked just outside of the top 25, falling six points short of tying then-No. 25 BYU, but the team could reclaim its nationally ranked status should it put together a solid string of games. No team remains in one spot for the entire season, rising and falling with its performance, or lack thereof.
What actually transpired in the month of April so far has been the team’s kiss of death. The Bears have lost eight of their 14 games this month, all of which came by sweeps at the hands of nationally ranked Pac-12 teams. Yes, the Bears still have yet to beat a nationally ranked team, and in the latest ranking, they recorded a mere four points.
Those sweeps, delivered by No. 3 Arizona, No. 10 Utah and No. 12 UCLA, were exercises of futility for Cal. Regardless of how well the Bears played during their mid-week exhibition games against lowly competitors such as St. Mary’s, Santa Clara, Sacramento State and Davis, the weekends have merely served as opportunities for the Pac-12 giants to pad their win totals.
The Bears came close to ridding themselves of the stigma that has haunted their entire season Friday against UCLA before ultimately letting the ballgame slip between their fingers. Moral victories are nice, but they’re completely worthless in the win column.
So as the regular season approaches its climax, where do the Bears stand? They’re 27-16 with a trio of three-game series left before wins or losses dictate whether or not the team stays or goes home, the first of which comes against Washington this weekend. A good nine-game stretch puts the Bears back in the conversation for the postseason. A bad nine-game stretch ends their summer dreams before they begin.
At this point in the season, the Bears have nothing to lose. Their latest skid puts them on the brink not only of falling short of the playoffs, but also of failing to register a single point during the next ranking update, which would serve as the ultimate blow to a team on the ropes.
These next three games will be telling of their season as they attempt to scavenge the remnants of a dismembered season. Despite the loss against UCLA on Friday, the Bears proved that they are capable of hanging with the nation’s best, and they’ll need to bring that fight back to Levine-Fricke Field this weekend. With their season on the line and everything to lose, the Bears must play as if they have nothing to lose.
Justice delos Santos covers softball. Contact him at [email protected]