How did the MLB’s Grapefruit League get its name? All signs point to the citrus grown in the state of Florida, the site of one half of Spring Training. There are 10 days before baseball officially returns, but last week, Cal softball was in Miami for some nonconference preparation of their own. The Bears’ time at the Felsberg Invitational was more comparable to an orange, however, a mixture of equally sweet and sour notes.
The Cal offense started off ice-cold as the Bears dropped the first game of the tournament to FIU on Thursday, 6-1. Alexandra Perez, Cal’s sole returning pitcher from the 2019 season, cruised through two scoreless innings before the Panthers struck for four runs in the third.
On the other side of the diamond, FIU’s Allison Muraskin turned in a seven-inning gem blemished only by a fifth-inning homer off the bat of the Bears’ Karlee Sparacino. Chloe Romero, a junior transfer to Cal from the Texas Longhorns, saw her first action on the mound for the Bears with a clean inning of relief in the loss.
Romero’s fortunes changed Friday against Michigan State as a third-inning grand slam and an ensuing double put a premature end to her first start in blue and gold. Fortunately, the Bears had already pulled well ahead after combining for an 11-run offensive explosion in the first three innings.
Cal cashed in on an early Spartan error in the first with a Kacey Zobac home run and benefited from another miscue in the second. After being tagged with the loss in the season opener, Perez rebounded to snag a win after entering in relief. Four-plus innings of one-run ball to finish the game were enough to preserve an 11-6 Cal lead and seal the first victory of the season for the Bears.
Perez threw a total of 28 innings over the course of the tournament and was the unquestionable workhorse of the Cal staff — and a five-inning, two-run outing later that Friday against Penn State would have been equivalent to a win on most days. Run support was at a premium, however, as the Bears struggled to solve the Nittany Lions’ southpaw starter Bailey Parshall and were only able to plate two runs of their own.
With the game tied 2-2 going into the bottom of the seventh with Penn State coming to bat, the end for Cal was quick but far from painless — a walk and a double from the first two batters put the game away for the Nittany Lions in walk-off fashion.
The Bears’ bats woke up again the next day with a 10-4 win over Michigan State. Cal tallied 17 hits on the day and never trailed as Perez tossed six-plus one-run innings to nab her second win. Freshman Maggie Joseph got the final out, stifling a late Spartan rally in her college debut on the mound.
A rematch with Penn State in the final game of the tournament set the stage for the Bears’ best pitching performance thus far. Cal was able to muster only three runs, but Perez made them count — the sophomore went the distance in a complete game effort, allowing one unearned run on only four hits to secure her third win of the young season. The 3-1 victory pushed the Bears over .500 for the week and ultimately let them fly home happy.
Cal will return to local stomping grounds for the Fresno State Kickoff Classic on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with experience for their freshmen now under their belts. Given what the Bears showcased in Florida, there’s still some ironing out to do on both sides of the ball — Cal will need to find consistency to make sure their season doesn’t go pear-shaped when conference play arrives.
Chanun Ong covers softball. Contact him at [email protected].