The Bears are on a mission to prove that they are still contenders for the NCAAs and beyond, and they will attempt to do so by taking down one of the top teams in the nation.
The No. 18 Cal softball team is traveling to Eugene, Oregon, to face off against the No. 2 Ducks in a three-game series. Starting on Friday at 5 p.m. at Howe Field, the Bears (35-13 overall, 7-11 Pac 12) will take on Oregon (41-5, 16-2) in Cal’s last away series in conference play.
Fresh off a 4-1 nonconference win against UOP on Wednesday, Cal will look to replicate that success and swing the bats in its favor as it prepares to go up against Oregon.
“(The UOP win was) very important in the sense of momentum — we’re taking this momentum we created this weekend against UOP, and we’re taking it into Oregon,” said senior Cheyenne Cordes. “When you’re going up against such a strong opponent, you need anything you can get.”
For Cal to emerge triumphant this weekend, the Bears will have to successfully face off against Oregon’s ace, Cheridan Hawkins. The junior pitcher recently snagged the Pac-12 pitcher of the week award for her performance when she recorded her sixth no-hitter of her career last week. Hawkins ranks first in the Pac-12 with an impressive 1.13 ERA and has a total of 186 strikeouts on the season.
Hawkins is a formidable opponent on the mound, but Cal has recently proven that it is capable of keeping its bats alive against pitchers of Hawkins’ caliber. Despite being swept by UCLA last week, the Bears faced the Bruins’ senior pitcher Ally Carda more than once — and while they managed only one hit the first time, the second time around, the Bears earned 11 hits in the game. With a conference as notoriously difficult as the Pac-12, the Bears were able to make adjustments in just one day, something they will need to do once more as they step up to the plate with Hawkins on the mound.
The matchup between Cal and Oregon will also feature a battle of freshmen, as both teams’ lineups boast some of the best underclassmen in the conference. The Ducks’ freshman infielder Jenna Lilley leads her team’s offense with a .442 batting average, good enough for third in the Pac-12. On the Bears’ side, freshman outfielder Jazmyn Jackson has the best batting average on her team with a .448, ranking second in the conference.
For Cal, all one through nine in the lineup have the ability to produce hits, proven by the team’s collective .341 batting average. Helping Jackson take charge in the box will be Cordes, who currently leads the team in home runs with 15 but, more impressively, has 70 RBIs on the season. The Bears will also rely on senior redshirt infielder Britt Vonk, who has a .426 batting average, to reach the bases as she has consistently been doing all season, earning a .538 on-base percentage.
“With a pitcher like Cheridan Hawkins, you can’t go up there and try to hit a home run — it’s just not going to work,” Cordes said. “I think all of us are kind of on edge when you start talking about postseason because we didn’t make it last year, so there’s always that fear. (We) just need to do the little things.”
Alicia Fong covers softball. Contact her at [email protected]