Road to Pac-12 title muddied as Cal softball drops series to UCLA

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The margin of error for the Cal softball team’s Pac-12 title aspirations just got that much smaller.

After dropping two of three to first-place Oregon last weekend, Cal’s chances of repeating as Pac-12 champions shrank considerably against rival UCLA (28-14, 5-10 Pac-12). The Bears won one game of three in Los Angeles, dropping Cal’s Pac-12 record to 7-5.

The Bears currently sit in fourth place, three games behind the Ducks.
Despite dropping two extra-inning thrillers, the Bears think that the losses will help them grow as the season progresses.

“I mean, (the losses) weren’t heartbreakers,” said outfielder Khala Taylor. “Every loss we take with a grain of salt. It’s just helping us grow as a team.”

All three games against the Bruins went into extra innings. Cal got its only win on Saturday, winning 5-1 in a 10-inning marathon while losing the first two nine-inning games by scores of 6-5 and 3-2 on Thursday and Friday, respectively.

The series started off promising enough for the Bears on Thursday, as they jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead in the first.

However, the Bears were shut down for the rest of the game, only managing one more run against UCLA starter Paige McDufee before getting shut out by reliever Ally Carda. Carda pitched 3 2/3 innings and didn’t allow a single hit while only walking two batters.

The Bruins fought back against Cal staff ace Jolene Henderson (27-7), tallying 12 hits and six runs against the All-American. Henderson had a chance to close out the game in the bottom of the seventh, but she surrendered an RBI single to Stephany Larosa.

In extra innings, the Bruins provided the winning run in the bottom of the ninth, capitalizing on an error by Cal shortstop Cheyenne Cordes that allowed Allexis Bennett to score.

“It was just a battle and a brawl,” Taylor said.

The Bears’ fortune didn’t change in Friday’s game, scoring just two runs.

Nisa Ontiveros and Henderson were stellar on the mound, but Henderson picked up the loss when she gave up a run in the bottom of the ninth.

Saturday’s game was another pitching duel between Henderson and Carda. After each team tacked one early run on the board in the first inning, both were shut out until the 10th.

The Bears’ bats finally woke up in the top of the 10th, when Ziegenhirt hit a sacrifice fly for the winning RBI and Henderson blasted a three-run homer to secure the win.

Up next for Cal is Oregon State. A third consecutive series loss would end any hope Cal has of repeating as Pac-12 champions.

Still, the Bears feel as if they still have a shot of winning the conference title.

“We as a team can definitely win a Pac-12 title,” Taylor said. “We’re mentally strong and unified. “All we have to do is keep it going and keep it positive. We’ll just get it done.”

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