San Diego State survives Cal after Bears’ loss to Aggies

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Anthony Angel Pérez/Staff

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UC Davis attacker Sorana Larson scored a career-high five goals, and although Cal had six different players score, it was not enough as the Bears opened their season with an 8-14 loss to the Aggies at Memorial Stadium.

The blue and gold looked to be on their way to an opening day victory when attacker Quinnlyn Mason put Cal up 3-1 early in the first half. But UC Davis ripped off a 9-2 run to tilt the game back in its favor. Larson, whose two-goal spurt in the last two minutes of the first half helped extend the Aggies’ lead, rattled off two more consecutive goals to open the second half, putting the nail in the Bears’ coffin.

“We got a little comfortable. They were sending help and making contact earlier with our attackers,” said Cal head coach Brooke Eubanks. “We definitely had a hard time adjusting to that.”

Eubank’s comments echoed true throughout the game. Her philosophy of having multiple scorers was in full effect, and at the beginning of the game, that looked to be the catalyst that would result in a Bears’ win. However, UC Davis’ ability to switch more effectively on defense meant the Aggies were able to limit Cal’s opportunities to cut across the field and find open spaces. And so after starting hot with four goals in the first nine minutes, it took the Bears the rest of the game to score four more.

It seems that Cal heeded Eubank’s concerns about second-half adjustments, however, as the latter half of the team’s showdown with San Diego State provided a potential blueprint for how the Bears might overcome offensive struggles. After a sloppy first half that saw Cal go into the locker room trailing 4-9, the blue and gold looked to be on the wrong end of another blowout.

The team, however, came out much more aggressive in the second half, a half that saw Cal increase its ground ball possession percentage from 48% to 65%. Led by attacker Megan Mix, the Bears rode a 71% shot-on-goal accuracy percentage in the second half to a 7-3 run. That stretch nearly culminated in a come-from-behind upset win over the Aztecs.

Unfortunately for Cal, San Diego State’s Cailin Young scored the dagger goal to put her squad up 12-10 with just more than three minutes remaining. After cutting the lead back down to one, the Bears had a chance but senior attacker Nikki Zaccaro missed the potential game-tying goal wide right with seconds left to play.

Throughout the game, the Aztecs were able to score many of their goals unassisted, showing Cal’s inability to defend isolation plays effectively. For the second straight game, the blue and gold’s interior defense improved, allowing a significant amount of shot clock to bleed out; but the lack of isolation defense and late rotations allowed San Diego State to take advantage of one-on-one matchups. Despite a defensive letdown, Cal’s ability to make adjustments to its offense in the second half provides hope for this Friday’s throwdown with Fresno State.

The Bears will definitely need their offense to come through. The last three meetings with the Bulldogs have been tightly contested and high-octane offensive shootouts, with neither team scoring below 13 goals, and the largest margin of victory being two goals. If Cal can play the type of game it played in the second half against San Diego State, there is no doubt it should be able to snatch a victory from Fresno State in what is shaping up to be a thriller.

“It’s kind of like a chess game,” Eubanks said. “One team steps up and the other team either has an answer or they don’t.”

Now, it’s time for the Bears to checkmate the Bulldogs.

Ali Fazal covers lacrosse. Contact him at afazaldailycal.org.