The top 10 moments in Cal sports this year: Part one

The last year was a memorable one in Cal athletics for a variety of moments. From softball’s run to the Women’s College World Series to the national titles for both swim teams, there were more great moments than we could fit. Read on to see which ones made our list.

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This is the first in a two-part installment of the top 10 moments from Cal sports this year. Today we bring you moments 6-10. Check here tomorrow for moments 1-5.

10. Jorge Gutierrez named Pac-12 Player of the Year

He was coming off arguably his two worst performances of his career — in two of the most important games. The Cal men’s basketball team needed to win just one of its final two regular season games against Colorado and Stanford to clinch a share of the Pac-12 title.

But the squad’s senior guard, Jorge Gutierrez, followed up a scoreless game on the road against Colorado with a measly eight points at Stanford.

For Gutierrez, those last two games of the regular season were an aberration for a guard who was as consistent as he was productive for four years.

He was named Pac-12 Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year the next day — the first player in league history to win both awards. The Chihuahua, Mexico native did not even lead Cal in scoring; he tallied 13 to Allen Crabbe’s 15.2.

But he was a leader. Gutierrez finished second in assists and grabbed more than five boards a game for a team short on size in the frontcourt.

Gutierrez has never been a stat guy. After all, charges taken doesn’t show up on a box score.

He’s about hustle and heart. He guards the opponent’s best player game in and game out — and usually shuts him down. Weber State’s Damian Lillard, the country’s second-leading scorer, shot 4-for-17 against Gutierrez’s in-your-face man-to-man defense in a preseason game.

A 6-foot-3 combo guard not known for his shooting, Gutierrez is unlikely to get drafted. Don’t count him out, though.

— Jonathan Kuperberg

9. Valerie Arioto hits home run in first game back from injury

Valerie Arioto strode up to the plate wearing her Cal uniform for the first time in a year. She took her stance on a leg that had been fractured just months before.

In her first at-bat of the season, she swung, and saw the ball soar over the outfield fence, the start of a season-long hot streak that would propel her team through an extraordinary season.

“That first hit, I didn’t know it was over! I was sprinting right off the bat,” Arioto said. “It was definitely a great way to get back.”

In her first five games, Arioto hit five home runs. The senior ended the year fourth in the nation in home runs at 23, second in on base percentage at .626, and fifth in slugging percentage at .912. Pitchers learned to fear her, which is why she also led the nation in walks with 33 more than the second highest player.

Her success helped her team reach impressive new heights, as the squad went 58-7 and set a new Cal record for most wins in a single season. The Bears ended the season ranked third after being eliminated from the Women’s College World Series in the semifinals.

Arioto’s triumphant return and off-the-bat success provided the spark that skyrocketed the squad to its most successful season in a decade.

“Val being back had a big impact,” Henderson said. “She sparked the rest of the team to hit. Our team really stepped up, and she provided the spark and consistency.”

— Taylor Brink

8. Glen Ishino wins national title on pommel horse

On Apr. 21, Cal gymnast Glen Ishino won the NCAA Individual Championship on the pommel horse at the 2012 NCAA Championships in Norman, Oklahoma.

Ishino, a senior, finished his decorated Cal career with an NCAA individual championship on the pommel horse, earning a score of 15.600 for his performance, good enough for a first place title. Ishino finished well ahead of second-place finisher Craig Hernandez of Penn State University, who scored just behind Ishino with 15.350.

The senior also won the pommel horse in the team finals.

“Glen was phenomenal,” said Cal coach Tim McNeill. “He really showed what an incredible athlete and competitor he is. Anyone who watched the meet tonight could tell he was the best gymnast on pommel horse.”

It was Ishino’s first ever NCAA individual championship title, ensuring a fitting end to a Cal career that saw him earn All-American honors on the pommel horse in each of his four years on the squad.

However, Ishino struggled in the parallel bars in the team event, finishing a disappointing 33rd. The Bears finished fourth overall at NCAAs, an unimpressive finish given the squad’s massive talent.

Ishino will continue to compete this summer at the 2012 London Olympics.

— Wendy Moreno

7. Cal takes season series against Stanford

Despite being ranked among the nation’s best in 2011, the Cal volleyball team didn’t have many shining moments that defined its season.

But the Bears always played their best against Stanford. Cal had spent years as the second-best Bay Area squad, but the Bears have legitimized their claim of being the premier program after notching four straight wins over the Cardinal in the past two years.

The two teams’ first meeting in 2011 was a matchup between the two top-ranked teams in the country. Then-No. 1 Cal played some of its most inspired volleyball of the year before a packed Haas Pavilion. Senior outside hitter Tarah Murrey led the way on the offense end with 15 kills, while middle hitter Kat Brown chipped in five big blocks as Cal prevailed, 3-1.

When the squads reconvened at the end of the season, neither team stood atop the national rankings. Both had experienced tough losses to the L.A. schools, and Cal limped into Maples Pavilion in desperate need of a win.

The entire Bears’ squad stepped up its game. Murrey was the real heroine of the match, taking an extraordinary 67 swings and laying down a match-high 23 kills in the 3-1 win.

With the departure of National Player of the Year Carli Lloyd after the 2010 season, the Bears lacked cohesion on the court and a vocal leader.

Those problems plagued the Bears throughout the season but solved themselves for one night when Murrey asserted her dominance on the court.

— Christina Jones

6. Bears invade Maples Pavilion against strong Stanford squad

The Cal women’s basketball team’s battle against Stanford at Maples Pavilion had all the ingredients for a movie-like comeback.

But in reflection on its 74-71 overtime loss, the Bears lacked that extra step to pull off the upset.

The rivalry game featured a contrast of styles. On one end of the ring, there was Stanford, then-No. 4 in the nation and heralded by many as the best team in the nation not named Baylor. On the opposite end, there were the Bears — young, unproven, and lacking any kind of resume against the top teams in the nation.

Early on, it looked ugly for the Bears. Down by 14 with eight minutes left, Cal chipped away at the deficit point by point. As a big Cardinal team looked weaker, the Bears rolled with the momentum. Cal finally tied the score with 27 seconds remaining.

Guards Brittany Boyd and Layshia Clarendon began to play smarter basketball, hitting better positioned shots and controlling the team’s pace. The Bears’ gritty, physical defense finally began to pay off. With the Ogwumike sisters shut down in the post, most of Stanford’s attacking options were out of play.

But overtime was a whole new script. Unlike in the second half, Cal missed three opportunities in extra time to take its first lead since the early minutes of the game. As the Cardinal scrapped for points from the free throw line, Stanford squeaked past for the win, saving its face in what could have been the biggest upset in college women’s basketball all year.

— Seung Y. Lee