Cal softball earns historic win over Arizona in last home game

Brian Bi /Staff

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Since 1995, Cal softball has called Levine-Fricke Field its home. From the makeshift bleachers to the picturesque outfield view, this hallowed ground has borne some of the best collegiate softball players and coaches of all time. On Sunday, the Bears played their final game on Levine-Fricke Field after a 4-1 loss to No. 5 Arizona, as plans are in place to build a new facility at the same site by 2021.

Mixed emotions emanated from Strawberry Canyon as the series finished two games to one in Arizona’s favor. The lone, extra-inning victory for Cal on Saturday marked the Bears’ first shutout of the Wildcats since 2012, ending Arizona’s current 21-game winning streak. Senior pitcher Kamalani Dung earned the win with her two-hit, seven-strikeout complete game against arguably the country’s most feared offense.

Freshman outfielder Amani Bradley’s two-out triple in the ninth inning for the Bears was the catalyst for catcher Lauren Espalin’s subsequent walk-off base hit. The two losses Friday and Sunday, however, virtually eliminated the Bears from playoff contention for the first time in five seasons.

Game one started with a bang after senior infielder Lindsay Rood knocked her fifth home run over the fence off Arizona ace Taylor Mcquillin, tying the game at 1-1 before sophomore outfielder Sabrina Nunez knocked in two more runs in the second inning. At 3-1, Cal’s offense folded, and a three-run home run by Arizona’s Pac-12 home run leader Jessie Harper put the game out of reach for a 6-3 Wildcat victory.

After game two’s surprise conclusion, Sunday’s game three was up for grabs. Once again, the Bears got off to a magnificent start after an RBI single from sophomore Karlee Sparacino that sent Rood home. Redshirt senior pitcher Zoe Conley held the Wildcats scoreless for four innings before Arizona’s senior infielder Rylee Pierce hit a two-run shot to take the lead. Conley, who is Cal’s first Black pitcher and the program’s single-season saves leader, gave up two more runs in the sixth, ending her illustrious playing career in Strawberry Canyon.

I took some dirt and some grass with me to commemorate the place that has shaped me into the young woman I’ve become,” Conley said in a statement. “I have to thank this place and Coach (Diane) Ninemire for taking a chance on a little black girl from Berkeley and making my dream of becoming a Golden Bear come true. It’s really come full circle for me and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished as a team and very touched by the legacy I have been able to leave with this program.”

Under different circumstances, the spirited and admirable performances by the Bears would’ve had more influence on their season. Lights-out pitching held the potent Arizona offense scoreless for 19 of the 23 innings played over the course of the series, while Cal’s offense got ahead early with conviction in its two unfortunate losses.

The Bears’ Pac-12 record has stooped to 4-16, and their imminent absence from the postseason calls the overall direction of the team into question. A season full of highs has been dwindled by many more lows, which is an assessment that Ninemire will harness and try to reverse going into next season. The Bears can conclude 2019 on a high with wins away from home against local rivals Santa Clara on Wednesday at 6 p.m. and Arizona State this weekend.

The Sun Devils, who occupy fifth place in Pac-12, will be looking to boost their postseason hopes after a dominant sweep of Stanford last weekend. Game one at Alberta B. Farrington Softball Stadium on Friday starts at 5 p.m., with game two starting at 1 p.m. Saturday. The final game of the season for Cal starts at noon Sunday. All three games will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks.

Spencer Golanka covers softball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @sgolanka.