No. 19 Cal softball searches for post-win-streak consistency against Lehigh, No. 7 Minnesota

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When a sports team is on a winning streak, people easily become caught up in the streak itself rather than in the team’s long-term goals. When will it be snapped? Is the team dominating or simply surviving in close games? The talk and focus don’t die down until the streak itself ends, and the hype disappears almost instantly after it does. It’s like a less nerve-racking analogy for a no-hitter: The game (or season) continues on, but with less people paying attention to specific numbers.

What people don’t tend to talk about as much is what happens after the streak concludes. How will the team perform in the weeks following a long stretch of wins?

No. 19 Cal softball (16-4) is in the midst of answering that question right now. After a 10-game win streak that vaulted the Bears’ early-season record to 13-1, the team has struggled with its consistency in its past six games, going 3-3 over the course of the Judi Garman Classic and Tulsa Tournament. Tight games have featured ups and downs from head coach Diane Ninemire’s lineup, necessitating a particularly effective rotation as the offense struggles to find its rhythm.

Looking back, the Bears have had a terrific start to their season. Even now, as it concludes nonconference play and transitions into competition against Pac-12 foes, Cal has a lot of statistics to smile about: a .404 batting average from its leadoff hitter (sophomore Lindsay Rood), a stellar 2.14 ERA from its ace (redshirt sophomore Zoe Conley) and most importantly, a .800 winning percentage.

But it remains to be seen which Cal team will step up and perform throughout Pac-12 play: the team that dropped winnable games over the past two weekends or the squad that rattled off 10 consecutive victories spanning three tournaments. This week’s home matchups against Lehigh (5-10) and No. 7 Minnesota (21-2) will be good indicators of where the team stands as conference play begins this weekend.

Lehigh is in the midst of a long West Coast trip, which began last week at the Stanford Easton Classic. The Mountain Hawks have not been great this year but will look to build off of their most recent game, a 2-1 extra-inning victory against Connecticut at Stanford.

Unlike with mediocre Lehigh, Cal will have its hands full against the Golden Gophers on Wednesday for an afternoon showdown. Minnesota is the second top-10 team that the Bears have faced this season. Any team that starts off its season 19-0 is a damn good team, and Minnesota has a perfect record on the year outside of two losses to No. 8 Washington. Junior infielder Sydney Dwyer and senior pitcher Sara Groenewegen are among the best combinations of hitters and pitchers in the country, and there’s no reason to believe that a weeklong visit to the West Coast will slow down one of softball’s most dominant powerhouses.

With the win streak now in their rearview mirror, the Bears will look forward to a chance at finding consistency in preparation for the future, where conference play will play a critical role in assisting Cal’s postseason hopes. First things first, though: The Bears need to take care of business this week, dismantling Lehigh and making a statement against Minnesota.

Josh Yuen covers softball. Contact him at [email protected].