Coming off a series loss to Oregon, Cal softball looks to get back on track against Saint Mary’s

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The Cal softball team could use a breather right about now. Having lost three of their past four games, the Bears don’t look anything like a team eager to defend their Pac-12 title.

It’s a good thing, then, that the Bears’ next opponent is Saint Mary’s on Wednesday in Berkeley. The Gaels have a 12-15 overall record, including an abysmal 2-8 record on the road. The nonconference clash should provide Cal with an excellent opportunity to rebound before its schedule takes a turn for the worse again.

The No. 1 goal for Cal has to be to get star pitcher Jolene Henderson back on track. The Bears have to be concerned that three of Henderson’s past four outings have resulted in losses. However, it’s the manner in which Henderson has lost those three games that is most alarming.

After only giving up one home run through the first 30 games of the season, Henderson’s allowed home run total has skyrocketed to nine. During Sunday’s game against the Ducks, Henderson was responsible for giving up four longballs. In her past three losses, Henderson has surrendered 14 earned runs in 16.1 innings pitched, bad enough for an ERA of 7.83. Her ERA for the season is 1.31.

However, the losses can’t be pinned on Henderson alone. In the past three defeats, the Cal offense has only managed to put seven runs on the board. On the season, the Bears average just above five runs per game. In those three losses, the Bears runs per game average shrank to slightly more than two.

If the Bears don’t improve these numbers next weekend, when they take on No. 15 UCLA in Los Angeles, they shouldn’t expect to come away with any wins.

That’s why Wednesday’s game against Saint Mary’s is so important. It gives Cal the perfect opportunity to get its confidence and game back on track. A dominating win would do just that.

The Gaels’ highest-hitting player is currently Megan Smith, with a .298 batting average. That number would be fifth on Cal’s roster. Saint Mary’s next-best hitter is Monika Reichhardt, who has a .250 batting average. That number would be eighth on Cal’s roster.

No other qualified hitter on the Saint Mary’s roster has a batting average in the .200’s. Meanwhile, Cal doesn’t even have one everyday player batting below .200.

In terms of a mismatch, the equivalent would be matching up the New York Yankees’ payroll against the Houston Astros’ payroll.

The question isn’t, “Can Cal can walk away with a win?” The question is, “How much will Cal win by?”

This scenario actually puts Cal in a pressure-packed situation. If the Bears find themselves in a close game with the Gaels, or if Henderson fails to shut down their subpar offense, it could be destructive to their championship mentality.

Cal head coach Diane Ninemire probably had no idea how important Wednesday’s date with Saint Mary’s would be back when the schedule was first released. Just one week ago, this game looked like an easy win for the Bears.

And it most likely will be. The Bears should expect to dominate on Wednesday. They should expect Henderson to regain her All-American form. They should expect to get back to their winning ways.

But if they don’t take care of business, the Bears will enter the most crucial stretch of their season on the lowest possible note.

Sure, it’s unlikely. But, then again, wasn’t it just a week ago when the idea of Henderson giving up eight home runs in a week seemed completely ludicrous?

Sean Wagner-McGough covers softball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @seanjwagner.