For five Cal players, this Battle of the Bay series will also represent their final Pac-12 games on their home field.
The Cal softball team will finish conference play with a three-game homestand against Stanford at Levine-Fricke Field beginning Thursday starting at 3 p.m. The No. 19 Bears (35-16 overall, 7-14 Pac-12) will take on the Cardinal (17-34, 2-19) after a rough away series against then-No. 2 Oregon last weekend that sent Cal home with three losses under its belt.
The Bears’ inability to produce hits combined with the Ducks’ dominance on both offense and defense resulted in Cal suffering its worst loss of the season, with Oregon winning 17-1 in the series finale Sunday. The Bears only recorded 10 total hits for the weekend, compared with the Ducks’ 40.
Fortunately for Cal, this week’s series against Stanford can serve as a jumpstart for the Bears’ otherwise steady offense before they hopefully enter postseason play.
“Looking at last weekend, that was the No. 2 team in the country, and it was a great experience for us to play someone like that,” said sophomore pitcher Katie Sutherland-Finch. “With Stanford, they’re scrappy, they fight, and I think it’ll really help us prepare for postseason.”
On paper, Cal should have no trouble beating the Cardinal. Stanford currently holds the worst record in the Pac-12, with only two wins total in conference play. The team’s pitching staff holds a collective 7.18 ERA, the highest in the Pac-12. The Cardinal records a team batting average of .278, the lowest in the conference.
But still, the Pac-12 is notorious for being the most difficult conference in the nation, and for the Bears to emerge victorious, they will need to regain both the offensive and defensive consistency they have shown for most of the season.
Cal will look to its senior leaders to lead the way, including shortstop Britt Vonk, left fielder Cheyenne Cordes and infielder Danielle Henderson. The three senior captains usually occupy the top of the lineup, hitting in the second, third and fourth spots, respectively, and serve as the Bears’ most consistent hitters.
Vonk currently holds a .438 batting average, high enough for second on the team. With freshman outfielder Jazmyn Jackson sitting out because of injury the past couple of games, Vonk has taken over the leadoff position for Cal. More often than not, Vonk does her job, demonstrated by her .544 on-base percentage and 51 runs, the highest on the team.
After Vonk is Cordes, who leads the team in home runs with a total of 15 for the season and has an impressive 70 RBIs, the second-highest in the Pac-12. Cordes holds a .383 batting average, just 2 percent behind Henderson, who records a .385 batting average.
Along with the Bears’ offense, Cal will need its pitchers to step into the circle with the same dominance they displayed at the beginning of the season. The Bears will lean heavily on Sutherland-Finch, who has a 3.97 ERA, and sophomore pitcher Stephanie Trzcinski, who holds a 3.57 ERA. Backing up Sutherland-Finch and Trzcinski will be Cal’s defense, which holds a collective .968 fielding percentage.
“More than anything, what we’re focusing on is taking advantage of opportunities and the reps — we’re really taking advantage of practices,” Sutherland-Finch said. “It really is about being focused. It is really about putting ourselves in a good position mentally, so when we go into the postseason, we played a good weekend of softball before.”
Alicia Fong covers softball. Contact her at [email protected]