Bears batter Bulldogs, pulling away from pack in 2nd half

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Anthony Angel Pérez/Staff

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It’s not hard to see why teams favor playing at home rather than on the road. The allure of a familiar environment is comforting compared to hostile surroundings and the dread of a long ride up. But one significant part of the journey behind enemy lines is the thought of a long post-game bus ride: That ride can be an impetus for motivation.

“We don’t want to get on that bus and sit with that loss,” said Cal goalkeeper Riley Drullinger.

Safe to say, the Bears enjoyed a good bus ride home. After nearly rallying from seven goals down against San Diego State on Feb. 28, the blue and gold finished the job Friday night, besting Fresno State 14-12 in Fresno for the first win of the season. It was largely a tale of two halves, as the first half was characterized by offensive fireworks from both teams, who combined for 16 goals. In the second half, however, Cal doubled down on defense, not allowing a goal within the first 17 minutes of the period.

Early on, it looked as though the game might play out similarly to the Bears’ opener against UC Davis. Cal went up 3-1 after Quinnlyn Mason scored on an assist from Nikki Zaccaro, but Bulldogs’ attacker Hannah Krats posted a 2-0 run, herself, to knot the score at three apiece. Logann Eldredge soon scored her second goal of the contest to put Fresno State up 5-4.

After a back-and-forth struggle, however, the Bears did what they hadn’t done all season: keep the game close at the half. Heading into the locker room holding one end of a 8-8 tie was fortuitous for Cal, especially since it has generally adjusted at halftime and been better in the second period this season.

“Getting in and getting some good coaching, especially at halftime and some of the timeouts (helps),” Drullinger said.

The adjustments paid dividends yet again. The blue and gold went up 12-8 before fending off a late Bulldogs rally. Cal’s ability to switch up its defensive schemes, rotating from high-pressure man to zone coverages, kept Fresno State on its toes.

The Bears were extremely aggressive on the offense end as well, moving the ball around quickly, repeatedly testing the Bulldogs’ goalie Courtney Walburger. They spent many possessions winding down the shot clock and taking their time to look for open shots. Cal’s strategy was two-fold: It provided the Bears’ defense time to rest between plays, while the team’s dominance over draw controls afforded Cal’s offense extra opportunities to control time of possession.

Drullinger and her teammates look to have found a formula they can use next against No. 3 USC, but they know it will not be easy. The Bears haven’t beaten the Trojans since 2013 and have surrendered at least 16 goals in each of their last five meetings.

“USC is a great team offensively and defensively. Switching it up, doing different things so that the attacker doesn’t get used to it and just being composed — that’s a big thing that we can take into next week,” Drullinger said.

Cal will close out its weekend homestand by hosting Arizona State. The blue and gold have gone 4-2 versus the Sun Devils in their last six encounters, and Cal’s defense can take solace in the fact that it has limited Arizona State to just eight goals in two of the past three meetings.

While the Bears relish in a hard-fought road victory, they will look to continue exorcising the demons of their previous two-game home stretch. A big test for Cal awaits at a critical time; the difference between a 3-2 and 1-4 record cannot be understated. But if this weekend was any indication, the team has found the tools and motivation to ace it.

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