Cal softball hopes to feast on Hornets in tune-up game

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Make no mistake, a team will jump at a win when it has the chance. After all, a win’s a win no matter how smooth or unorthodox the path to victory was. But all athletes will admit that some wins feel much better than others.

As evidenced this weekend, the Cal softball team (25-13) continues to ride its roller-coaster season in an up-and-down fashion. On Friday, it played like the top-25 team it was during regular-season tournament play. But just one day later, the offense was unable to back another strong performance from its ace until late in the game.

Considering the Bears struggled in their recent 2-1 narrow home win over Fresno State (25-17) on Saturday after a decisive 8-0 victory Friday, they’ll hope that a bounce-back performance is in order Wednesday at Sacramento State (14-22-1). It took until the home half of the seventh inning for Cal to push across its first runs Saturday, but the team was able to sneak past the upset-minded Bulldogs behind the clutch play of junior Jazmyn Jackson and senior Kylie Reed.

One can either look at this performance as a boost in confidence in being able to deliver a walk-off finish or a further cause for concern given that the game was close in the first place against a mediocre team. No disrespect to the Bulldogs — and especially to sophomore ace Kamalani Dung, who pitched a 6.1 inning gem for her team. But the Bears unexpectedly struggled at the plate in the finale of the series after they put together a solid performance from top to bottom in the opener.

While the offense displayed improvement in patience with six walks in game two, it also totaled just four hits, three of which came from Reed, who is in the midst of a terrific stretch of timely hitting out of the No. 2 slot in the lineup. That barely got the job done against a team that had lost four of its last five games before its short stay in Berkeley — meaning it almost certainly won’t be enough against the likes of upcoming Pac-12 opponents.

Fortunately, Cal has one more chance to find its offensive rhythm before traveling to Los Angeles for a three-game series with UCLA. Sacramento State has faced the majority of its competition in the Big Sky conference and relies heavily on the long ball to win games, with 30 home runs on the year. The Hornets stand as the penultimate nonconference team that the Bears will face this year, as the rest of the schedule will be accentuated by a number of Pac-12 squads that are gunning for postseason berths late in the year.

With the number of games that the Bears are heavily favored in dwindling, expect them to feast early and often against an inferior team. Specifically, look for the Bears’ top three spots in the lineup (Jackson, Reed and sophomore Lindsay Rood) to take matters into their own hands and lead the offense to a productive afternoon at the plate.

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