In a purely statistical sense, a loss is just another number — but if sports were composed of digits alone, there would be no emotional reason to enjoy them.
The fact is that every loss is not the same. There is a difference between getting outplayed by an opponent and simply coming up short. Neither is easy to move on from, but both are learning experiences that are, although disappointing, essential to a team’s improvement.
Cal softball never found its groove at the Judi Garman Invitational at the end of February, losing all their games against NCAA tournament-level opposition. The Bears left Fullerton with a 1-3 record, their worst display in a preseason tournament this year.
To close out their spring tuneups, Cal brought a vengeance to the East Coast at the JMU Dukes Invitational on March 6-8 for a five-game set. The Bears fired on all cylinders at the plate to start their weekend in Virginia, sweeping Siena College in two games decided by the eight-run mercy rule and snagging a win against the University of Connecticut.
Then they hit a speed bump. The Bears combined for seven errors in their final two games, losing both a rematch with UConn and a contest with James Madison.
Still, in comparison to their performance in Fullerton, Cal interim head coach Tammy Lohmann was pleased with the Bears’ display at the JMU invitational.
“This weekend, we came out and had a great showing,” Lohmann said. “We came out and competed the first two days and really did a great job at the plate, on the mound and on the field. I think they learned from everything and I think every game is an opportunity to grow and get better.”
Cal bursted off the blocks with a 16-8 win over Siena College. A whopping 15 runs in the first three innings effectively put the game to bed early, with the Bears’ Cameron Kondo contributing two singles and a three-run shot en route to five total RBI. Alexandra Perez hurled three innings and freshman Maggie Joseph tossed the remaining two as Cal locked up its first game of the tournament through the five-inning mercy rule.
Perez returned to the mound the next day against Connecticut, holding the Huskies to two runs in three-plus innings of work. With UConn leading 2-1 heading into the bottom of the fourth, Cal strung together a two-out rally with an unlikely catalyst — after a walk with two runners on, Sophie Medellin was plunked by a pitch to force in a run and tie the game.
The Huskies promptly fell apart. The next batter, Amani Bradley, knocked a single up the middle to plate a pair of runs. A UConn error extended the inning for Lauren Espalin, who benefited from yet another fielding miscue to drive in two more. By the time the fourth inning ended, Cal was up 6-2 with a lead that they would not relinquish, staying in front until the game ended 8-4.
A Saturday rematch with Siena College would yield more of the same results. Cal was all over the Saints’ pitching from the start, scoring six runs in the first inning, one in the second and seven more over the final three frames. A five-spot for Siena in the third inning was the only real scare for the Bears, who were buoyed by top-to-bottom lineup production to close out a 14-6 win.
But when Cal faced UConn again Sunday, the roles from Saturday were reversed. The Huskies came out with a swagger, notching two runs in the first inning and five in the second. Meanwhile, UConn junior Marybeth Olson allowed one hit — a first-inning Makena Smith single that extended her hitting streak to 19 games — before blanking the Bears the rest of the way. A run in the fourth via a Cal fielding error put the game in run-rule range, and Olson never wavered as she closed out an 8-0 UConn win in five innings.
Four of the Huskies’ runs that game were the product of Cal miscues, and the defensive woes would not stop there. In their final game against James Madison, the Bears tallied five errors in a 10-3 loss.
“Today we kind of beat ourselves, so we got a few things to clean up,” Lohmann said. I think it’s going to be all about how they really get their mind right going into the season.”
They’ll need to gather themselves quickly, because a date with No. 11 Oregon — the Bears’ first Pac-12 opponent — is approaching soon. The Bears will play their first game of the season in Strawberry Canyon on March 13 at 3 p.m.
Chanun Ong covers softball. Contact him at [email protected].