Cal softball avoids sweep, collects 1st win against ranked opponent

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Break out the balloons and the streamers: the Cal softball team (28-21, 4-16) has taken down a ranked team.

The word “hot” jumps out in the world of sports. It’s terminology and use can occupy two extremes, one case in which a player is on a “hot streak” and seemingly can do not wrong, while the other consists of the “hot seat,” typically when a team’s manager or coach is under tremendous pressure.

This weekend, the heat was on in more ways than one in the Bears’ three-game series against No. 22 Arizona State (30-17, 9-12). Under scorching conditions where temperatures hovered around 100 degrees, Cal another opportunity to overcome a stigma that has plagued the team all season long: the lack of win against a ranked opponent.

The coaches have searched and the players have fought for it all season long, enduring loss after loss against ranked teams in the Pac-12 resulting in a 3-16 conference record heading into Sunday’s finale.

It took a little longer than they probably intended, but Sunday’s 3-0 victory over ASU was by far the Bears’ most rewarding win of the year. After dropping the first two games of the series under unbearable heat, Cal took advantage of one of redshirt sophomore Zoe Conley’s most dominating performances of the year and picked up its ace with a late push to seal the win.

Unlike the result of Sunday’s matchup, the final road series of the year began with a thud. The Sun Devils’ lineup clobbered Conley in game one, leaving the Bears in a 6-0 hole after four innings. A series of gut-wrenching home runs gave the Sun Devils a huge advantage and it looked as if ASU would run the Bears out of the building.

Instead, Cal’s lineup fought back. Although they fell short by a final score of 9-7 in Friday’s contest, the Bears displayed timely hitting and took advantage of the multi-hit efforts from junior Jazmyn Jackson and senior Annie Aldrete to climb back into the game. Scoring seven runs in the final three innings signified a message that the lineup has preached all year long despite its prolonged inconsistencies: they won’t go down without a fight.

The same could not be said about game two, as junior Dale Ryndak held the Bears to just two hits, both of which came from senior Kylie Reed. ASU continued its offensive onslaught with four more home runs in a 10-0 five-inning victory.

On Sunday, the stage was set for the Bears’ last chance at beating a ranked opponent in the regular season. It is often said that the stars shine brightest when the going gets toughest, and Conley had saved her best for last: a one-hit masterpiece against a team that had scored 19 runs against the Bears’ pitching in the first two games.

Pinch-hitting in the top of the seventh with Cal up 1-0, freshman Bradie Fillmore launched her second homer of the year, providing the insurance Conley needed to put the final touches on a much-needed win. It isn’t a World Series victory or even a postseason clincher, but the Bears can check off a box that has been looming over their heads.

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