‘It’s only up from here’: Bears swept by Ducks in season series finale

photo of a Cal softball player during a game
Lisi Ludwig/Senior Staff

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For a season that featured more than a dozen game cancellations, an all-new coaching staff and a conference full of the country’s best teams, there were still plenty of reasons for Cal to smile amid a series sweep by the visiting No. 10 Oregon.

Back on home soil for the first time in more than a month, the Bears came out strong in Thursday’s opening match of the four-game set. True freshman Haylei Archer held the Ducks scoreless through the first four innings, getting the blue and gold out of several jams early in the contest. Oregon finally broke the gridlock in the fifth, however, as it was able to string together a slew of hits for two runs.

Cal kept things interesting until the very end, turning the tide in the sixth with a leadoff double by Mikayla Coelho and getting the tying run on base in the seventh. Unfortunately for the Bears, Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week Brooke Yanez kept Cal from capitalizing as Oregon went on to win 2-0.

“We have a lot of confidence in our offense. We know we can always get runners on base,” Coelho said. “I thought we played them really well, but you have to score to win. If we had just a few more opportunities, it could have been different, but I’m proud of how we played because Oregon’s a great team.”

The Ducks remained dominant Friday, collecting victories in both games of the doubleheader — the first from the circle and the second at the plate.

With the exception of a towering solo shot from Makena Smith in the sixth, her team-leading eighth home run on the year, Samaria Diaz and Yanez kept Cal’s offense quiet. The duo combined for 12 strikeouts while allowing just one walk in Oregon’s 4-1 win.

Hours later, though the Ducks’ 4-0 advantage was compromised by a three-run blast off the bat of Alexis Bishop, the Oregon offense put on a show in the sixth, tacking on another five runs en route to a 9-4 victory.

In addition to Coelho, the team honored Lauren Espalin, Cameron Kondo, Sabrina Nunez, Chloe Romero and Karlee Sparacino in a Senior Day ceremony before Sunday’s season finale.  Although the senior sendoff could not be complemented with a win, the Bears kept it close against the Ducks once again.

After allowing a trio of runs across the first two frames, Romero settled in to earn her sixth complete game of the season. The highlight of her final time on the mound for the blue and gold came when she retired ten Ducks in a row, but Oregon’s pitching proved even more dominant as it hung on to clip Cal 3-1.

Regardless of the scoreboard this past weekend, or any weekend, the seniors are proud of how far the team has come this season as well as for what’s in store for years to come.

“I think, quite honestly, we can compete with anybody,” Espalin said. “I don’t think there’s another coaching staff like the one that we have. Even though it’s only been one semester of in-person stuff with them, the program has already gotten so much better.”

“The team’s in really good hands; Coach Spencer, Coach Becca, Coach Mitch, Coach Cuico — they’re the best,” added Coehlo. “We just couldn’t catch a break this whole season, with the COVID-19 pandemic and games cancelled, but it’s only up from here.”

Though postseason play still remains for six of Cal’s eight Pac-12 opponents later this month, the Bears will head back into hibernation. And while a 3-11 conference showing and losing record overall leaves lots of room for improvement, this season’s silver livings provide a place to start: numerous come from behind victories, consistent contributions at the plate up and down different lineups and of course, simply having been able to play through a pandemic.

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