Cal softball faces No. 1 Washington to reboot Pac-12 season

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Alice Langford/File

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No. 25 Cal softball made the most of its week away from Pac-12 opponents, securing 5-0 and 13-0 wins in nonconference play against Pacific and St. Mary’s, respectively. Now, the Bears will resume what has been a tumultuous start to the Pac-12 season at No. 1 Washington this weekend.

The Huskies’ beginning to conference play could not stand in starker contrast to that of the Bears. While Cal holds an unimpressive 1-8 conference record, Washington has won its last nine conference games, including series sweeps of then-No. 9 Arizona, Stanford and Utah.

The Huskies have just two blemishes on their 39-2 season record, both of which came on the road against then-No. 10 Arizona State to start conference play.

In addition, Washington has played its best softball at home. This season, the Huskies possess a perfect 13-0 home record, the program’s longest such streak since its 15-0 start in 1996.

Time and again, Washington has shown why it’s here to stay as college softball’s top program, posting the nation’s best team ERA at 0.85 and eight-highest team batting average at .334.

Senior Kirstyn Thomas’s breakout season has been the driving force behind the Huskies’ offensive success. Thomas only hit a total of nine home runs in her first three seasons in Seattle, but she has already exploded for a team-leading 11 dingers this year. Her power is backed by a .414 batting average and an impressive 47 RBI.

Junior pitcher Taran Alvelo’s contributions to the nation’s best rotation cannot be understated either. In Washington’s last matchup against Utah, Alvelo went the distance, allowing only two hits and one run to complement seven strikeouts and securing her 20th win of the season behind an overall 0.72 ERA.

In order to deal with the dominance of the Huskies, the Bears’ offense needs to rebound from dismal performances in its last two series against Arizona State and Arizona at home, in which the team scored eight runs over six games.

The Cal bats failed to step up in their most recent games last week in Berkeley, but the Washington rotation will be the toughest the Bears’ lineup has faced all season.

Despite struggles at the plate, junior transfer Kamalani Dung and redshirt junior Zoe Conley have remained reliable in the circle. The two starters have faced ups and downs against Pac-12 opponents, but they have pitched well enough to keep the Bears within striking distance in several of the team’s losses.

Against Pacific, Dung threw yet another gem, striking out eight batters on her way to a one-hit shutout performance. Conley had similar success in a rematch against St. Mary’s, throwing all five innings of a run-ruled Cal win. The pitching staff’s return to form is an optimistic sign when facing one of the most potent offenses in the country.

On both ends of the field, the Bears will have to play near-perfect softball to pick up a win against the nation’s No. 1 squad.

Max Mennemeier covers softball. Contact him at [email protected]