After earning its first win against Oregon in three seasons Sunday, Cal softball (25-23, 3-15 in Pac-12) took the second of two games in a Tuesday doubleheader in a dog fight against an evenly matched Nevada squad (24-19, 8-7 in Mountain West Conference), once again showing its ability to grind wins out against nonconference opponents.
The 4-3 loss to the Wolfpack in game one was only the Bears’ second home loss to a nonconference opponent this season. Senior pitcher Zoe Conley made sure there wasn’t a third after her complete game, seven strikeout performance in a 3-2 extra-inning victory. Junior infielder Destiny Blueford advanced home on a wild pitch to score the winning run after her leadoff single in the bottom of the 10th.
But as the tide has begun to sway in the right direction after breaking free of their 10-game conference losing streak, the Bears are forced to welcome the relentless No. 3 Arizona (38-7, 15-0 in Pac-12) into Levine-Fricke Field in their final home series of the season. Game one in Strawberry Canyon starts at 3 p.m. Friday. The series continues Saturday at 1 p.m. and concludes Sunday at noon. All games will be streamed on calbears.com.
Not only are the Wildcats on a 20-game winning streak, but they have also beaten their opponents into submission, tallying 11 run-rule victories and 181 runs in that time period. They rank in the top five nationally in team batting average and ERA and have one of the country’s most powerful and deadly offenses.
Junior infielder Jessie Harper is a regular contributor to Arizona’s continued dominance. She currently occupies the third spot in the national rankings with 21 home runs and leads the Pac-12 in RBIs with 55. Fellow junior infielder Reyna Carranco has also brought the heat with 63 hits, ranking second in the Pac-12 behind Cal senior infielder Lindsay Rood, who has amassed 68 hits so far this campaign.
Rood and other top performers at the plate for Cal, such as sophomore catcher Lauren Espalin and freshman catcher Makena Smith, will be given a run for their money against a Wildcat pitching staff that impressively has a 1.45 team ERA. Senior ace Taylor McQuillin has come into her own in conference play, leading the Pac-12 in ERA, wins and shutouts so far this season.
Harnessing the same intensity that the Bears showed against UCLA earlier in the season will be crucial to their success. Minimizing errors and careless mistakes is always a must, but an equally important emphasis on organization and clutch hitting may give Cal an edge.
The toughest pill to swallow for Cal, however, is the realization that the team has only three conference wins in 18 tries. The effort that it would take to surmount the Wildcats is astronomical for most teams in college softball, and the Bears will need to play their best series of the season to sniff victory this weekend.