Cal softball’s slump lengthened at hands of Huskies pitching

Karen Chow/Senior Staff

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Remember that emaciated bear so illustratively described following the Stanford series? A pack of hungry Huskies just made its day a lot worse.

Cal softball’s enduring slump saw new lows against No. 6 Washington (32-6, 9-3) this weekend, with the Huskies sweeping the suffering Bears in three decisive victories that left nothing to the imagination.

The Bears (21-18, 1-10 Pac-12) seem like the shell of the team that touted an 11-game winning streak just a month ago, trading that success in for an 11-walk pitching performance and handing Washington a run-rule win and another pair of victories that seemingly required no effort on its behalf.

Cal’s pitching, once a facet of a highly functional team, has now become one of the squad’s greatest weaknesses. Zoe Conley took to the circle in all three games and gave up a collective 15 hits, sending her ERA skyrocketing to 6.31 for the series. Kamalani Dung, game two’s starter, also gave into Washington’s heavy hitters after a perfect three frames and surrendered four runs in the fourth inning to unravel Cal’s early lead.

A Bears offense that spent most of its preseason tattooing balls could hardly find footing, much less gain ground, against Huskies hurling duo Taran Alvelo and Gabbie Plain, who struck Cal out 17 times over the series. Despite sporadic fireworks provided by Lindsay Rood, Amani Bradley and Makena Smith, Cal’s efforts to put runs on the board were swiftly thwarted just about every time the Bears stepped up to bat.

“We couldn’t get all three elements of our game together. The pitching at times was not stellar, the defense at times broke down, and our hitting — we can’t generate hits in timely situations,” said head coach Diane Ninemire. “We get people on base or have bases loaded with one down, and we come up empty-handed.”

Washington, however, capitalized on the many opportunities provided by Cal’s bullpen to score, launching balls into the outfield nearly every at-bat toward the end of the series. The Huskies’ 23-hit, 18-run series both reaffirmed their place near the top of the national poll and reaffirmed the Bears’ place well out of the rankings.

Cal has earned only nine runs over the last seven games, a far cry from what postseason-bound teams are putting on the board — UCLA, Oklahoma and Florida State, the top three teams in the nation, are averaging a collective 7.8 runs per game and have earned a prodigious 270, 305 and 311 runs, respectively, this year. The Bears have earned only 209.

“It’s just a combination. It’s just not one thing — it’s feeding off of each other,” Ninemire said of the team’s recent downtrend. “You get strong pitching performances, then you’ll generally get good defense, and that translates over into their hitting. We’ve just got to put it all together. When you play these kind of games, you just can’t have a breakdown in any element of your game because you’re not going to come out on top.”

But even the darkest clouds have a silver lining — the Bears defense probably got some great exercise and practice for the rest of conference play by chasing hits down all weekend.

The game three loss marks the eighth consecutive Pac-12 loss for the Bears.

Cal is also extending its homestand this week by hosting Oregon State, the squad ranked just above the Bears in Pac-12 standings. The Beavers boast a 1-9 record in conference play but are 19-14 on the year, so if Cal is to change the trajectory of its own season, this series is crucial.

The Bears will face the Beavers starting Friday at 3 p.m. after Wednesday’s nonconference matchup against a 7-26 St. Mary’s, who hasn’t won a match in 10 games.

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