Cal stumbles in Pac-12 opener against Utah, dropping 2 of 3 games

Kavya Narendra Babu/Staff

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How do you spell “blindside”?

U, T, A, H.

The Bears were nearly swept by the Utah Utes in their first series of Pac-12 play over the weekend and gave up two games to a team that had won only 11 of its 24 games up until its three-game slate against Cal.

Faulty and fickle defense has plagued the Bears all season, and the same pitching rotation that helped secure Cal’s 11-game winning streak likewise sank the ship against Utah.

Up by two runs in the first inning of the opening game, Cal looked poised to turn 11 into 12, with no intention of stopping. At the bottom of the frame, however, redshirt senior Zoe Conley gave up six hits on the mound to give the Utes five runs and a lead they wouldn’t lose.

Three-up, three-down innings in the third and fourth marked four consecutive scoreless innings and an offensive slump for both teams, but Jordan Fines and Lindsay Rood led the comeback effort with singles that would result in two earned runs for the Bears. Even Rood’s three-for-four day proved just short of earning Cal the win, as the team fell to Utah, 5-4.

Just like in Berkeley, when it rains, it pours, and the Bears dropped their next game to the Utes 7-3 after coming back from an early deficit to tie it in the fifth inning. Cal ace Kamalani Dung surrendered five hits, five runs and five walks in just five innings — a four-of-a-kind that would likely win a game of poker but that lost the game for the Bears.

Cal’s offensive showing was dismal compared to Utah’s three straight two-run innings at the tail end of the game, though the usual suspects of Rood, Alexandra Perez and Destiny Blueford put points on the board for the Bears. Karlee Sparacino has had a stellar stretch of games, indicated by her going two-for-three and earning an early run for the Bears after blazing a hit into right field.

After nearly mounting comebacks all weekend, Cal finally pulled one off in its eight-inning getaway game against Utah behind four lead changes. The teams combined for 20 hits as the Bears fought tooth and claw to avoid the sweep, with sophomore Mikayla Coelho leading Cal and Utah alike with one RBI, three hits and three runs in four at-bats.

A complete team effort, however, is what made the win for the Bears — every pitcher on the roster entered the circle during the game, three of them pitching two or more innings. Conley redeemed herself and gave up no runs in the 3.2 innings she threw, even while giving up three hits.

Batters, likewise, banded together for an offensive showing that saw seven players with hits and six with runs. 11 hits total and two home runs propelled Cal past an (almost) equally determined Utah, with Blueford’s walk-off homer in the first at-bat of the tie-breaking eighth inning adding the final nail in the coffin.

Perhaps it was the Utes’ element of surprise that did in the Bears — after coming off the 12-1 decimation of Fairleigh Dickinson on Wednesday, Cal was likely not expecting the firestorm the Utes brought with them to the Dumke Family Softball Stadium. The Bears, scheduled to play six of the top-25 teams over the course of conference play, were expecting to fly out of Salt Lake City with three more easy wins under their belts after facing unranked and seemingly unthreatening Utah. Much like poker, however, nothing is certain until the game is over, and the Utes called Cal’s bluff to earn them the series.

The Bears will return to sunny California for a midweek matchup against Sacramento State on Wednesday at 4 p.m. before their official home-opener series against Stanford on Saturday.

Emily Ohman is an assistant sports editor. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @emilyohman34.