Softball shootaround: Cutthroat Pac-12 awaits promising Cal team

A softball player swings the bat to hit the ball.
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The Bears are entering conference on a 10-game winning streak. How do you think their recent success will affect their play going up against Utah?

Emily Ohman: I think this last stretch of games will prove crucial to Cal’s performance come Pac-12 play. A historic seven-game run-rule streak in addition to these wins has undoubtedly given the team unmatched momentum as compared to seasons past and has allowed the team to get a clear idea of what works well for them. It’s critical, however, that the Bears don’t confuse confidence with cockiness; focusing on upping their defensive game to match their stellar offense, which has amassed an astronomical 96 runs over their last nine games, and not simply taking such prosperity for granted will keep Cal competitive as it faces some of the toughest teams in the nation.

Spencer Golanka: The Bears have picked up immense confidence and a winning mentality as they enter the second and most important stretch of the season. But their competition during this run has been subpar, to say the least, and the warning signs that were apparent against ranked teams earlier in the season could easily resurface if not attended to. Walks and costly errors negated what were adequate offensive and pitching performances against the top teams. Fix this area, and Cal should be making travel plans for the postseason.

 

How do you think Cal matches up to the Pac-12 opponents it is slated to face this season?

EO: According to ESPN’s rankings, the Pac-12 currently boasts six teams in the top 25, with the Bears slated to play each of these teams one series after another in their last stretch of the season. The first of their matchups against these powerhouse teams will be against a currently 22-1 UCLA, which is sitting comfortably at the No. 2 spot in the polls. Such a grueling schedule doesn’t bode well for the Bears, whose single win against then-No. 20 James Madison marked their only win against a ranked team in nearly a year. But in the NCAA’s standings, Cal is poised just within striking distance of each of these teams, at the No. 32 spot, so some upset wins for the Bears might not be out of the question just yet.

SG: Not well. Even though Cal has a reliable pitching staff and a number of powerful bats at the plate, it lacks the depth and the track record to compete week in and week out against the best teams in the country. Despite this, the Bears have faced arguably their toughest opponents in the nonconference period in recent seasons. If there ever was a time to take advantage of the Pac-12 onslaught, now would be ideal. Cal’s biggest loss of the season so far was to current No. 10 Texas, 10-0, back in February after Cal was outhit and outplayed on every area of the diamond. Barring a similar mass capitulation, the Bears should find themselves more tallies in the win column than last season.

 

Cal’s defense has been unreliable in the first half of this season. Do you expect the same to continue in conference play?

EO: Considering the competition, or lack thereof, that Cal has faced over its last two tournaments, I think that, while the team has almost perfected its offense, it hasn’t even had a chance to establish a defense that’s going to maintain itself in the face of Pac-12 play. Such a rift between the two facets of the team will likely put considerable stress on the Bears as a whole and get them in sticky situations that they might not be able to amend.

 

SG: Yes. The Bears have amassed 33 errors so far this season, which is certainly not the message you want to send to the UCLAs and Washingtons of the world. Averaging more than an error a game will not result in a successful conference run, let alone a postseason appearance for Cal. Hopefully, some of the recent offensive brilliance from the Bears will bleed into conference to cancel out the defensive woes.

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