After going nearly three weeks without playing, the Bears were back in action to take on the No. 9 Wildcats for a pair of conference contests. However, the extra rest did not appear to provide Cal any sort of advantage, as the only thing hotter than Tuscon’s 93-degree weather this past weekend was Arizona’s softball program.
Coming into Saturday’s opener, 19 of Wildcats’ 31 wins on the season had come by margins of eight runs or more. Upon Sunday’s final out, the number was made 21 of 33; Arizona bruised Cal for consecutive 9-0 and 11-1 victories.
Following COVID-19-related schedule adjustments, what was originally set to be a four-game series became the two-game venture, and while back-to-back mercy-rule defeats do not make for an ideal road trip, scorecards can nullify valiant efforts — Saturday’s game is an excellent example.
Though the Wildcats jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first, the Bears came right back with a leadoff double off of the bat of true freshman Alexis Bishop in the second. Lauren Espalin followed with a walk to put another duck on the pond with no outs, but the Bears were unable to advance them any farther, departing the frame with two left on base.
Unfortunately for Cal, the trend continued. A two-run home run from national team slugger Dejah Mulipola extended Arizona’s lead to three in the bottom of the third, but the Bears kept things interesting in the fourth. Singles by Espalin and Sabrina Nunez put runners on first and second for Cal before Karlee Sparacino was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Hanah Bowen remained locked in on the mound for the Wildcats, however, as she was able to force a pop-up for the final out of the inning to strand all three Bears with the go-ahead run at the plate.
Arizona tacked on a run in the bottom of the frame before putting the nail in the coffin with a five-run fifth, four of which were unearned.
“It was great getting back into the swing of things, but you can’t be good in live reps without the experience of being in live situations. It’s hard to simulate in practice” said head coach Chelsea Spencer, whose squad has more than 12 games canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic this season. “Arizona is a great team. We did a good job getting runners on, but we couldn’t push them across. You can’t win if you don’t put any runs on the board.”
The Wildcats got the better of the blue and gold Sunday with another mercy-rule win, this time fueled by a nine-run second inning. Though able to plate a run against Arizona’s Mariah Lopez in the fifth, Cal would have needed quite the rally to level the contest.
“We struggled in the second inning, but we shut them out for the rest of the game,” Spencer said. “It was a little too late, but at the same time, these are life experiences that we all go through and it’s going to make us better in the long run.”
For the short run, the Bears will travel to Boyd & Jill Smith Family Stadium on Wednesday for a mid-week matchup at Stanford. The duel will serve as the rubber match for the 2021 season, as the two teams split a pair of nonconference games back in February. With Stanford recently posting several wins against top-ranked teams and coming off a 3-1 weekend against Oregon State, a rivalry victory for Cal would be all the sweeter.
Allie Coyne covers softball. Contact her at [email protected].