Cal softball to begin midseason tune-up games by hosting Santa Clara

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Former Cal quarterback and current Green Bay Packer Aaron Rodgers has had one of the best careers in the history of the NFL. At age 33, his list of honors and awards includes six Pro-Bowl selections, two MVP awards and one Super Bowl ring. So when the Packers started off their 2014-15 season with a shaky 1-2 start, Rodgers, the team’s captain and soft-spoken leader, confidently told worried fans to R-E-L-A-X. Sure enough, the Packers season began to take off after that.

So how does this relate to the 2017 Cal softball team midway through its up-and-down season?

At 22-13, the Bears’ record is about what was expected from a team with returning starters offensively and a transitioning phase in its pitching rotation. Cal’s 3-8 conference record, however, is beginning to cast a cloud over an otherwise upbeat group of players that confidently had its sights on a deep postseason run when the year began.

Should the Bears, having fallen out of the top 25, even start to think about hitting the panic button? Or do they follow Rodgers’ lead and R-E-L-A-X?

Coming off of a two-game series sweep to No. 15 Utah (26-7), Cal has a chance to find its footing once again against nonconference foes, beginning with a home showdown with Santa Clara (10-24) on Wednesday. There aren’t too many midweek, nonconference games against teams with a sub-.300 winning percentage that scream must-win, but the Bears could really use a dominating performance from start to finish. The Broncos have won three of their past four games after losing eight straight, but they shouldn’t be expected to surprise Cal on its home turf in Berkeley.

If there’s one thing that the Bears have improved upon in recent days, it’s patience at the plate.  At the beginning of the season, junior infielder Jazmyn Jackson was asked what her biggest individual goals were for the year, and her response accentuated a desire to draw more walks. As arguably the best hitter in head coach Diane Ninemire’s lineup, Jackson led the offensive charge with three walks in Friday’s loss to Utah, demonstrating the patience and diligence that Cal hitters have struggled to replicate during Pac-12 play.

Perhaps more importantly, Wednesday’s game represents a chance for the Bears’ pitching to rediscover its consistency again. After surrendering 19 runs while getting swept against Arizona two weekends ago, Cal arms gave up another 19 runs in just two games against the Utes, a concerning sign for a team that heavily relied on its pitchers during the first half of its season.

It remains to be seen which Bears will show up for Wednesday’s battle with Santa Clara — a squad that possesses an extra sense of urgency or continues to be as R-E-L-A-X-e-d and loose as it’s been all season long. A combination of both is likely in the works. 

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