In many sports, it’s expected that the team with a stronger lineup usually comes out on top.
But with softball, every game feels truly up for grabs. Sub-.500 teams can keep a contest close against the country’s best. A lineup can score seven runs against an opponent one game, then be held to just two the next. This week, the Bears have experienced both realities.
After a brief, midseason hiatus due to COVID-19, Cal ventured across the Bay for a midweek matchup against rival Stanford, then split a doubleheader at Long Beach State on Saturday to conclude its first full week of play in nearly a month.
“It’s just like everyone says, ‘you don’t know how good something is until you lose it,’ ” said senior Sabrina Nunez. “ It’s definitely the same thing with softball. Sometimes you get lost in the grind, but it just takes a few weeks off for you to be dying to be back on the field … you miss playing the game.”
Following a scoreless frame in the first, the Cardinal jumped out to an early lead in the second Wednesday afternoon. With runners at first and second, Stanford’s Sydnee Huff scorched a double to left, giving Stanford a 2-0 advantage. Later in the inning, she crossed the plate for a third on an infield single by the speedy Teaghan Cowles.
Though right-hander Sona Halajian kept the Cardinal offense in check throughout the following innings, the Bears weren’t able to find the scoreboard until the sixth. Thanks to a Stanford throwing error, Makena Smith turned a walk into a run, but that was all Cal would be able to muster. The team would ultimately fall to its crosstown rivals 3-1.
“We have a lot of heart … the score may not reflect it, but we know we are competing,” Halajian said after Wednesday’s loss. “As long as you take in every win and you learn from every loss, there really is no losing because you are getting better every day.”
Halajian also noted no matter the opponent, whoever sets the tempo has the best chance of winning. In Saturday’s opening contest against Long Beach State, the Bears did precisely that with a four-run first.
Alexis Bishop got things started with an RBI double to score Nunez, and Makena Smith followed with a towering three-run homer to put Cal up 4-0. The Bears continued to pad their lead as the game progressed with contributions at the plate from Kacey Zobac, Mikayla Coelho and Morgan Zamora. Chloe Romero was dominant on the mound, earning her second complete-game victory on the year in the 7-1 win.
However, the blue and gold’s offensive momentum did not extend into the late afternoon. After Samantha Fowler got the best of Cal in a pitcher’s duel, Long Beach State escaped with a 3-2 win to close out the doubleheader.
Cal returns to Levine-Fricke this Thursday to host 11th-ranked Oregon for its final series of the season. The Bears will compete while celebrating seniors Coehlo, Nunez and Romero, as well as Cameron Kondo, Karlee Sparacino and Lauren Espalin — all six of whom have been an integral part of the team over the years.
“It’s the team that plays the best on any given day,” Nunez said. “(To beat Oregon), pitch selection is going to be a big one, locking it down on defense, and hopefully it will all come together.”