Bears lose extra-inning heartbreaker, regroup for two wins

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Lisi Ludwig/Senior Staff

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“The greatest equalizer is a new day.”

Head coach Chelsea Spencer likes to remind her team of that, and it’s a theme that has yet to be broken — for better or worse — through Cal softball’s first three weekends of action.

After falling to Sacramento State in its season opener, Cal rallied for a come-from-behind walk-off win against Saint Mary’s the next day. Likewise, the Bears’ close loss to their South Bay rivals Feb. 26 made its dominant, redemptive victory over the Cardinal Feb. 27 all the sweeter.

Back at Stanford’s Boyd and Jill Smith Family Stadium for the DeMarini Invitational, the blue and gold followed a similar trajectory; following a heartbreaking, extra-inning loss against BYU on Thursday, Cal regrouped to close out the weekend with a pair of wins over UCSB.

After losses to Oregon State and No. 3 Arizona, the Cougars came into Thursday’s game eager to find the win column against a Pac-12 opponent, and they struck first with two runs in the bottom of the second. Cal plated two of its own in the fourth to tie the game between a pair of three-up, three-down frames from freshman pitcher Haylei Archer.

BYU climbed back on top with three runs in the fifth, courtesy of two-baggers from Arissa Paulson and Taylei Williams, but saw its advantage compromised once again as the blue and gold struck back in the sixth to make it 5-4 in favor of the Cougars. Kennedy Thomas got the inning started with an infield single to bring up Sophie Medellin, who reached on an error by the BYU third baseman. Karlee Sparacino then hit into a fielder’s choice, putting runners at the corners for senior Cameron Kondo. Kondo ripped a single back up the middle that marked her second RBI on the day, and Makena Smith continued the rally by bringing home Sparacino.

Unsatisfied with BYU’s  one-run lead, HannahJo Peterson hit a two-run homer in the sixth to give the Cougars a 7-4 edge with Sona Halajian having taken over for Archer on the mound. Down but not out, the Bears put two on for Sparacino in the top of the seventh, who belted a homerun over the left field fence to tie the game at 7

With the game having been sent to extras, Cal did not get a chance to respond to Rylee Jensen’s solo shot in the bottom of the eighth that made the final score 8-7 in BYU’s favor.

However, after falling just short of a come-from-behind victory against the Cougars, the blue and gold were given “a new day” and made the most of it, able to complete a comeback against UCSB.

After a series of defensive miscues, the Bears found themselves trailing 3-2 going into the sixth. UCSB pitcher Felisha Noriega helped Cal get its rally started as Medellin was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning. A single off the bat of Kondo and walks by Smith — who had homered in the fourth — and Lauren Espalin tied the game at 3, but a subsequent pair of strikeouts left it all up to Kacey Zobac. With the bases loaded and two outs, Zobac smacked a grand slam over the left field fence to put the Bears up 7-3.

Chloe Romero was able to go the distance in the circle, collecting four strikeouts and improving to 3-0 on the season. All of the Gauchos’ runs were unearned.

“I went up there planning not to do anything too much, just wanted to knock in a run to put us up and I ended up seeing a good pitch.” Zobac said. “It was a great win for us as a team, collectively. Makena’s home run was really awesome too. Everyone contributed.”

Facing off against UCSB again Saturday, one run and clean defense was all the Bears needed as Archer and Halajian combined to pitch seven scoreless frames.

Cal pieced together a rally in the fifth with a double from Espalin and singles from Smith and Medellin to plate the game’s lone run in what turned out to be a 1-0 victory for the blue and gold.

Sunday’s matchup against Nevada was canceled due to COVID-19 complications within the Wolfpack program.

The Bears return to action Wednesday at Santa Clara before facing UC Davis and Fresno State for a pair of contests each at the 2021 Bulldog Classic in Fresno this weekend.

If Cal continues to only suffer one loss per weekend, the blue and gold will be in great shape. With Pac-12 play against stiff competition just around the corner, doing so would be all the more impressive.

Allie Coyne covers softball. Contact her at [email protected]