Cal softball’s toughest slate of games in recent memory will see the team take on four top-25 teams over a five-game period this weekend in the St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational.
On Thursday, the Bears will launch into the national spotlight and face their one glaring weakness that has plagued the team over the last year — being unable to beat ranked opponents. Last weekend, their only two losses came at the hands of No. 19 Louisiana at Lafayette after Cal struggled with defensive strategy and pitching execution.
“It was a disappointing two losses,” said Cal head coach Diane Ninemire. “We just didn’t play our best defense and ordinarily get better pitching performances. This was a very good team that we played, and I think there were some great signs that will propel us into next week’s games in Florida.”
Cal will face No. 7 Texas to kick things off at 10 a.m. Thursday, then play No. 20 James Madison the next morning at 9:30 a.m. The Bears will then enter their third doubleheader of the season Saturday against No. 17 Oklahoma State in the morning and Notre Dame later in the day. The final game will start at 7 a.m. Sunday morning as they finish the tournament against No. 22 Minnesota.
To leave Florida in the winner’s column, Cal will need to minimize walks and careless defensive errors while maintaining its hot start on the offensive side. The Bears gave up a lofty 17 walks over the weekend but mounted an impressive 36 hits, with their charge at the plate led by senior Lindsay Rood’s nine hits, four RBIs and two walks.
Each opponent this weekend possesses a wealth of versatility and raw talent. Four of Cal’s five matchups will be shown on multiple ESPN platforms, with Thursday’s game on ESPNU and the last three games streaming on ESPN3.
No. 7 Texas
The Longhorns have started the season 4-0 after outscoring their opponents 32-3 last weekend in the Texas Classic. Their dominance was highlighted by a .378 team average and a combined 0.64 ERA.
No. 20 James Madison
The Dukes will open their season this weekend against Cal. James Madison was ranked No. 22 in the preseason poll and was selected by the 2019 Colonial Athletic Association head coaches to win the conference.
No. 17 Oklahoma State
After losing their opener to No. 21 Illinois, the Cowgirls opened the floodgates at the Houston Invitational, winning their remaining four matchups and most notably walking off against No. 13 Kentucky, 8-7.
The Fighting Irish were the poorest performers of this lot in their opening weekend, finishing the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge with a 2-2 record. But Notre Dame earned a shocking victory in a wild game against Pac-12 title contender No. 5 Washington, showing tangible potential to wreak havoc this weekend in Florida.
No. 22 Minnesota
The Golden Gophers won two of their three matchups this weekend, with their final matchup of the weekend against George Mason being canceled because of rain. On its opening-day doubleheader, Minnesota outscored its opponents 20-0 without tallying a single error.