Home runs, heart and home-field advantage: Cal takes three of four from Utah

Photo of Cal Women's Softball pitcher winding up
Lisi Ludwig/Senior Staff

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From the music bumping from the tailgates in the parking lots to the cheer-leading parents in the stands, the energy at Levine-Fricke Field this past weekend made for an emotional experience. The clamoring of the metal bleachers once again echoed through Strawberry Canyon and banter from the stands about the umpire’s impossibly small strike zone returned.

For the first time in nearly two years, Cal softball fans were back.

Though fans were happy just to be able to attend the game, smiles widened as the Bears took three of four from the visiting Utes. The series win marked Cal’s first in Pac-12 play.

In Friday’s opener, frames remained scoreless until the fifth inning when Utah’s Alyssa Palacios smacked a solo shot to center. The Utes padded their lead with another run later in the inning. Sophomore Makena Smith wasted no time in returning the favor as she launched her fourth home run of the season to leadoff the bottom half of the inning, cutting Utah’s lead in half. Junior right-fielder Mikayla Coehlo then worked a walk to set the table for true freshman Alexis Bishop, who sent a two-out, two-run round-tripper over the left field fence. The 3-2 lead was all pitcher Haylei Archer would need to close out the victory for the Bears.

Cal and Utah proceeded to split Saturday’s doubleheader. In the first game, the Bears were able to take a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the third with an RBI single from freshman pitcher Sona Halajian. Utah then plated a run in the fourth, fifth and sixth to go up 4-2. Freshman D’Asha Saiki brought Cal back within one with a solo home run to right in the bottom of the sixth, but the come-from-behind victory was not completed as the Bears fell to the Utes 4-3.

Cal was able to flip the script just hours later with a 6-4 win. Its highlight was a towering two-run home run off the bat of Halajian in the first and an equally blistering three-run shot from Smith in the fourth.

Unfortunately for the Bears, due to Pac-12 scheduling designed to accommodate COVID-19 protocol, the second match of the doubleheader does not count toward a team’s conference record if all four games in a conference series can be played. As a result, Sunday’s finale became the rubber match, and the Bears came out hungry.

Facing a 3-0 deficit heading into the bottom of the third, Smith took charge for Cal once again — this time with a two-run homer to right that made the score 3-2. Freshman Sophie Medellin’s double and sophomore Morgan Zamora’s single plated two more runs for the Bears in the fourth before Utah evened the game at four in the fifth.

Having entered the game as a pinch hitter, freshman Aleia Agbayani went two-for-two Sunday, including an RBI double that reached the wall in the sixth and gave Cal the lead for good.

“I was just trying to keep it going, just pass the bat to my teammates,” Agbayani said. “It was awesome playing at home this weekend, to have the fans back. Everything just felt great.”

The Bears took advantage of a Ute error to tack on an insurance run later in the inning, though it would not be necessary as junior pitcher Chloe Romero retired the side in the seventh to seal a 6-4 win and Cal’s first series victory.

The Bears will travel to Stanford next week to take on the Cardinal, where the two teams split two nonconference matchups earlier this season.

“Our goal is just to bring the same energy from this weekend into our next games,” Agbayani said. “Especially against Stanford.”

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