Rainy weather prevented Cal softball from returning to Berkeley in a midweek matchup against Sacramento State. Instead, the Bears used the extra day off to stay dry and focus on the weekend arrival of No. 12 Arizona State.
ASU enters the series scorching hot, having just knocked off No. 1 Washington twice in a three-game series last week in Tempe, Arizona.
Aside from one outlying loss to Iowa, the Sun Devils have only dropped games to Washington, Tennessee and Oklahoma, who currently make up the top three programs in the country. On the flip side, Cal aims to rebound from a disappointing opening conference series loss to Oregon State.
The Sun Devils represent yet another talented and balanced Pac-12 team and are led by sophomore starting pitcher Giselle Juarez. ASU possesses a formidable pitching staff that rivals the performances of Cal junior Kamalani Dung and redshirt junior Zoe Conley this season.
Juarez earned both of the wins against Washington with two complete game shutouts. Against the nation’s fourth-highest scoring offense — at 7.39 runs per game — Juarez was lights out, allowing only seven hits and two walks along with 19 strikeouts. Both wins added to the sophomore’s 11-1 record and lowered her season ERA to 0.84.
Juarez is backed by two capable starters in seniors Dale Ryndak and Breanna Macha. The senior duo has had impressive season ERAs as well, at 0.75 and 2.33, respectively.
The Sun Devils’ dominant pitching staff is matched by an equally prolific offense.
Freshman Danielle Gibson is having an outstanding rookie campaign, posting team highs in batting average, home runs and RBI at .414, 10 and 27, respectively. Gibson drove in every run for ASU against the Huskies, which totaled four go-ahead runs over both games.
But Gibson is not the only Sun Devil that boasts power and efficiency in the batter’s box. Junior Morgan Howe matches Cal’s team leaders in home runs with five, and she posts a .395 batting average.
In addition, senior Nichole Chilson, who often bats cleanup for the Sun Devils, is having a good offensive season, exhibiting a .311 average and 20 RBI.
Cal will need to disrupt ASU’s top performers from both sides of the plate in order to get back to its winning ways of the preseason. Hopefully, the extra days off will allow both Dung and Conley to regain their preseason form and silence Gibson and other Sun Devils at the plate.
Cal’s lineup must continue to produce to give Dung and Conley breathing room in the circle. The Bears exhibit a deep lineup and are currently 13th in the nation in scoring offense at 6.34 runs per game.
Cal is a very talented and complete team as well, but the team will need to fire on all cylinders to defeat ASU.
While the Sun Devils will attempt to bring the heat from Tempe to Berkeley, they have yet to play a true road game this season. ASU has only played six of 28 total games outside of Tempe, all of which were played on neutral sites.
The Bears will look to use their home fans and Berkeley’s rainy weather to cool off the Sun Devils’ hot start.
Max Mennemeier covers softball. Contact him at [email protected]