Cal softball’s series loss to nemesis Stanford is the least of its worries

Kavya Narendra Babu/Staff

In terms of mascots, I don’t think that a cardinal would stand much of a chance against a bear in real life if it came down to it. Okay, I know that’s not actually its mascot — only Stanford would have the audacity to choose one of the worst colors in the entire spectrum as its athletic moniker — but a tree is no more ferocious an enemy than a bird the size of a roll of toilet paper or the most obtrusive shade of red.

But if the Cal versus Stanford series could be illustrated in terms of a battle between symbolic school animals, just picture a hapless, malnourished bear getting attacked by a swarm of cardinals and having its eyes pecked out before being crushed by a falling tree that’s on fire.

Cal’s rivals from across the Bay were able to steal their first series against the Bears since 2013 when the Cardinal swept in three games and scored 37 runs to Cal’s 12.

Had its most recent series not seen its third game canceled because of rain, Stanford (23-4) might have managed a similar margin of victory. Earning 20 runs in just two games, the Cardinal were able to embarrass the Bears in their home opener to the tune of 25 total hits and a pitching performance that nearly knocked the lights out.

While Stanford’s bullpen was just as powerful as the creature of its namesake, Cal’s pitching emanated a different kind of bull — namely, what comes out of its rear. Despite striking 10 out across her two appearances on the mound, senior Zoe Conley walked 12 batters — all three Cardinal pitchers walked only four in both games combined.

Stanford aces Carolyn Lee and Kiana Pancino rank fifth and sixth respectively in Pac-12 ERA, with fellow righty Maddy Dwyer trailing close behind in the eighth spot. The trio was nearly untouchable and remained steady even against Cal’s greatest strength — its offense.

The Stanford series made it crystal clear that the Bears’ batting, impressive as it may be, is simply not enough to pull them out of the pit caused by sporadic pitching and a defense that might as well not even show up. Cal’s six errors in the series don’t even begin to describe the sloppiness in the outfield; the Bears escaped errorless by the skin of their teeth on many plays but put Stanford in a position to obliterate its opponent dozens of times. Cal is lucky the box scores don’t always tell the whole story of the game.

Even though the Bears have the offensive power that would make them serious contenders if the whole team competed on the same level, you can’t drive a Lamborghini Aventador if it doesn’t have brakes. Stanford was allowed to score six runs in the first inning of its second game this weekend, but Cal’s 10-run comeback effort proved fruitless, as it almost always does.

The Bears, now 20-12, will need to do damage control as fast as possible after also dropping their midweek matchup to UC Davis 2-1, which saw 14 Cal batters fanned by just one pitcher in addition to managing just five hits out of 28 at-bats. Starting Friday will be a three-game series against UCLA, the team unanimously ranked No. 1 across all three major national polls.

If Cal is to walk away from the Bruins’ lair in Los Angeles with a single win under its belt, the Bears need to find favor with the softball gods and hope that frequent losses have at least provided ample practice for high-stakes games such as these. It’s now or never for Cal to step up to the plate and turn its season around in time for playoffs.

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