Home state advantage? Bears return to California for Fresno tournament

Karen Chow/Senior Staff

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California is, in many ways, a microcosm of the American frontier. With sprawling deserts, vibrant forests and pristine beaches alongside the urban bustle of cities, the state is both diverse and complete at the same time. It is a puzzle of landscapes that fit together perfectly — and it is a place the Bears are surely happy to call home.

The Cal softball team plays its first games of the season in the Golden State when it travels to Fresno for the Bulldog Classic on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Cal will play St. Mary’s twice and face Fordham, Cal Poly and hosts Fresno State once apiece.

The Bears will have to jump-start their offense and figure out pitching depth if they plan to find consistency this year. Last week at the Felsberg Invitational, the Bears scored a combined total of 27 runs across five games.

From that, it might seem like Cal is clicking at the plate — but the Bears’ run total was skewed by two 11-6 and 10-4 routs of Michigan State. It’s still early, however, so fans can expect lineups to be tested in Cal’s second tournament of the season.

Save for one start where she surrendered six runs in five innings and was saddled with a loss, Perez grabbed three wins in Miami — posting a stellar 2.00 ERA in 28 innings of work across just four days. After throwing a total of 45 frames last season when she split time between first base and the mound, she’s already tossed more than half of her inning total from last year.

Junior transfer Chloe Romero and freshman Maggie Joseph took the mound last week but didn’t have the best of outings — Romero suffered a tough luck loss in relief against Penn State, and Joseph allowed three runs in a win against Michigan State. Well-regarded prospect Sona Halajian has not yet gotten the ball for the Bears, but she very well might this week as Coach Diane Ninemire looks to build a supporting cast around Perez. There’s certainly more to come from the newcomers — and pitchers in particular might need a bit of extra time before finding their rhythm at the start of the season.

Cal’s five-game set in Fresno will start against St. Mary’s (1-4) on Thursday. The Gaels got off to a rocky start in the Norcal Kickoff Tournament last week, but ended the three-day event with a 12-3 mercy-rule win over Idaho State. They’ve been held scoreless in two of their five total games, so if Perez and co. come out firing, Cal has a solid chance at taking the opener.

Friday will see the Bears take on Fordham (1-4), a team whose pitchers own a combined 6.82 ERA over five games. It’ll be far from batting practice, but Cal will take the field looking for a big game at the plate.

The Bears will face St. Mary’s again Saturday morning before concluding their double-header against Fresno State (3-2) in the afternoon. Out of the other teams in attendance, the hosts are the only team besides Cal that sits above .500 — and three wins last week followed by two close losses against No. 7 Florida and No. 17 Michigan make the Bulldogs the team to beat.

Sunday marks the end of the event as the Bears square off with Cal Poly (2-2). The Mustangs took on last year’s national champions UCLA last week and came away with the result many expected — an 8-0 loss. Still, a 9-8 slugfest win over Pittsburgh and an 11-3 rout of CSU Bakersfield mean that Cal Poly can’t be written off.

All things considered, the Bears’ second tournament may be more telling of their long-term potential this season, both on the mound and at the plate. Cal’s first game starts 9 a.m. against St. Mary’s in Fresno.

Chanun Ong covers softball. Contact him at [email protected].