OK, yeah. Maybe the phrase “come out swinging” has become a bit of a trope.
But that’s exactly what Cal softball did over the weekend in Lafayette, Louisiana at the Ragin’ Cajuns Classic as the team secured its first three wins of their season with flying colors and dropped two against a top-20 team.
After the premature conclusion of their postseason run last spring, the Bears didn’t seem to be hiding their sense of vindication as they shut out Fordham 9-0 in their first game of the season. Cal was operating as the best sum of its parts in the tournament opener, with players in every position contributing to Fordham’s funeral. Senior infielder Lindsay Rood homered in her first at-bat and went four for five the rest of the game, banding with the rest of the team, which combined for 13 hits. Zoe Conley pitched 10 strikeouts, only one fewer than her career high.
“I thought this was one of the greatest opening days we’ve had in many years,” said head coach Diane Ninemire after the Fordham win.
As if one shutout wasn’t good enough, the Bears followed up by burying Incarnate Word 7-0 with the help of freshman pitcher Alexandra Perez. In a promising college debut, Perez pitched a no-hitter in her first three innings and doubled as Cal’s designated player. In a slightly less lucrative scoring game against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in which Cal won 4-1, Rood decided to focus her attention elsewhere and stole three bases, including home plate for the second time in just two games.
Speaking of debuts, junior transfer Destiny Blueford upstaged her own three stolen bases in the Fordham game with two runs scored, one homer and a walk (just for the sake of being well-rounded). Freshman Makena Smith and Blueford gave Fordham a one-two punch in the top of the fourth, delivering back-to-back homers and helping Cal breeze past its unranked opposition.
Another freshman, Amani Bradley, also stuffed the stat sheet during the tournament, amassing four hits and three RBIs. Standout performances from Cal’s cubs offered only a glimpse of the Bears’ potential both for this season and those to come.
Some things never change, though, such as Rood’s reliability and ability to consistently make the most of nonideal situations. One such situation was heading into a doubleheader against No. 19 Louisiana, a stacked team led by stalwart starting pitcher Summer Ellyson, who ranked in the top 30 in fewest hits allowed last season.
The Cajuns lived up in full to their mascot’s name by plundering Cal in the first game of the day, in which they sauntered away with a 7-1 win. Louisiana went 27 innings during the weekend before giving up a run in the top of the sixth, but three straight hits later, the Bears still found themselves down by a margin too large to close.
In Cal’s second matchup against Louisiana, Rood, Bradley and sophomore Mikayla Coelho got the Bears rolling and had the lead at the end of the first inning. The Cajuns, however, refused to go quietly into the night and ended up scoring five runs in the bottom of the fifth to seal Cal’s 3-7 loss.
Louisiana remains undefeated thus far and is sitting pretty at 6-0 for preseason, but the Bears remain undeterred.
“Louisiana is a pretty tough team, so I think that the way we played against them was definitely a good start for us,” Conley said. “I think we just need to tighten up on some things. Some of our defense, reducing our walks as a pitching staff, and just, in general, keeping our energy and intensity up. We’re a pretty fun-loving team — we love to dance, sing, have fun, so I think keeping that in the dugout will propel us along in the season.”
The weekend full of firsts ended in a close second-place overall finish in the tournament. Now, the Bears will set their sights toward the St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational, where they’ll face five top-40 teams.
In a pre-tournament interview, Coelho stated that the team’s season objective was simply “to win.”
So far, so good.
Emily Ohman is an assistant sports editor. Contact her at [email protected].