The Cal softball team knew from the first day of the season that should it crack the Women’s College World Series tournament, it would have to battle with a nationally ranked team to advance to Super Regionals.
With their season on the line, the Bears were faced with the task of beating seventh-seeded, eighth-ranked Auburn twice without dropping a game if they wanted to come out of the Auburn Regional as the victor.
Cal proved it was capable of sticking with Auburn by battling for nine innings in a close 4-3 loss Saturday, but the wheels fell off in a must-win elimination game as the Tigers blew out the Bears 8-2 to eliminate Cal from postseason contention and end its season.
The Bears have mounted several come-from-behind victories this season, but the Tigers all but determined the ballgame by the end of the second inning.
Auburn wasted no time jumping on senior Stephanie Trzcinski, lighting her up for four runs after she faced only four batters. Before she could record an out, head coach Diane Ninemire pulled her from the game out in favor of senior Katie Sutherland-Finch, but the Tigers plated three runs against her in 1.1 innings of work.
Redshirt sophomore Zoe Conley replaced Sutherland-Finch and provided much-needed stability in the circle, allowing only one run in 5.2 innings of relief, but Auburn had already pulled away from Cal on route to advancing to the Super Regionals.
The Bears’ road to this eventual elimination game began with a Friday matchup against the Fighting Irish. Led by a complete game from Conley, Cal kicked off the tournament with a 6-2 victory over Notre Dame to remain in the winner’s bracket. The Bear ace struck out seven and allowed only two hits in the win.
Both teams traded runs in the first couple of frames and were notched up at two apiece heading into the fourth. With the ballgame tied 2-2, the Cal offense scored four unanswered runs, three of which came in the bottom of the fourth inning to give its ace a comfortable cushion as she mowed down the Fighting Irish bats.
Cal advanced to face Auburn, but the Bears couldn’t play spoiler to the nationally ranked ballclub and fell in the aforementioned 4-3 nine-inning loss.
Conley was tasked with carrying the pitching staff once again and battled inning after inning, but the Tigers handed the redshirt sophomore the tough-luck loss although she went well-beyond the expectation of a typical start. Over 8.1 innings, Conley faced 41 Auburn batters and threw 147 total pitches, both of which are season highs.
The redshirt sophomore’s final line is not indicative of her effort on the mound as she worked out of more than a handful of jams to keep her Bears in the ballgame.
Despite Conley’s grit in the circle, Cal’s offense could not provide any run support for its ace, held hitless from the fifth inning onwards.
Auburn’s win kicked Cal into the elimination bracket and set the stage for a rematch with Notre Dame, which beat East Tennessee State for a second time to keep their championship aspirations alive.
Mother Nature kept the Bears and the Fighting Irish from finishing their second round in a timely manner, pushing Saturday morning’s action into Sunday morning, but Cal emerged victorious 5-3 in the teams’ second meeting of the tournament.
Senior Annie Aldrete and junior Kobie Pettis led the Bears at the plate with two RBI each and were at the forefront of Cal’s three-run fifth which erased a 3-1 deficit.
Pettis drove in junior Jazmyn Jackson to cut Notre Dame’s lead to 3-2 and Aldrete followed up her teammate with a two-run single which drove in sophomore Lindsay Rood and senior Kylie Reed to give the Bears the 4-3 lead. Pettis cleared the fences in the top of the seventh for her second home run of the season to extend Cal’s lead to the ultimate final score of 5-3.
The Bears ended their 2017 season with a total record of 32-24, almost identical to their 33-24-1 record from last season. With seven seniors set to depart, Cal’s core is set to undergo a major transformation in the coming season.
Justice delos Santos is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]