Cal softball seeks to stabilize sinking ship against St. Mary’s

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A team’s schedule can make all the difference in the world. While many teams will take as many off days as they can get, some prefer to keep the games coming — if they’re on a roll.

The NCAA softball schedule is designed so schools are able to complete in a multi-game series over the weekend during conference play, with a nonconference game in the middle of the week. This provides teams on win-streaks with the chance to stay hot without too much of a break, while giving struggling teams a game to find their groove. This week, the Cal softball team is part of the latter — and could really use a big win.

Wednesday’s midweek showdown with East Bay opponent Saint Mary’s is an opportunity for the Bears to put this weekend’s three losses to Arizona behind them as Pac-12 competition heats up. Aside from a home sweep of rival Stanford, not much fell Cal’s way during the month of March. The start of April was no different, as No. 4 Arizona obliterated the Bears’ pitching staff for 19 total runs across three contests. On the other side of the plate, the Wildcats fired three consecutive complete games, two of which came from redshirt senior Danielle O’Toole.

Perhaps the most glaring statistic from this weekend is the fact that no-hitter in the Bears’ lineup other than senior Kylie Reed was able to pick up multiple hits across all three games. That’s not going to get the job done against anybody, let alone a top-ranked opponent.

While Cal may have routed Saint Mary’s the last time the two teams met, it is not the same team that it was in late February. The Bears were playing their best ball of the season at the time, especially offensively. How times have changed.

As the competition got stiffer, Cal’s lineup has been unable to rise up against some of the top pitchers in the country, resulting in a slide out of the top-25 and a team that has become more reliant on its pitching than ever before.

The Bears should have no problem limiting the Gaels’ offense, as Saint Mary’s hasn’t scored more than four runs in any its past six games. Redshirt sophomore Zoe Conley held the Gaels to just two hits in Cal’s 11-0, five-inning victory Feb. 22, but even Conley has been in a funk lately, surrendering nine runs in 5 ⅔ combined innings this weekend against Arizona. Saint Mary’s isn’t a nationally feared opponent like the Wildcats, so Cal pitching should be expected to fire up a solid performance before it faces more Pac-12 hitters this weekend at Utah.

This game is undoubtedly a critical moment for the Bears to regain some of their swagger against a familiar opponent. Then again, it’s also putting a lot of pressure on Cal to deliver with a win, as a catastrophic loss could represent a mental blow to an already struggling team. The game does not scream “must-win,” but beating Saint Mary’s is all but necessary for Cal to right the ship.

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