Cal falls short: Season ended by No. 5 UCLA

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Joshua Kamins/Staff

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After getting through Los Angeles traffic, the Bears arrived at Easton Stadium at UCLA to play a three-game series to end their regular season. With the NCAA tournament just around the corner, Cal’s sixth-place spot in the Pac-12 standings seemed promising going into the final games against the Bruins. However, was it able to maintain this position against a top-ranked team?

With a record of 28-24-1 before heading to Westwood, the Bears looked to translate the momentum of their series win against Arizona to Thursday, Friday and Saturday’s matchups against No. 5 UCLA. For a major upset win, Cal would need to put offensive pressure on the Bruins’ elite pitching, commanded by the two-headed monster of redshirt junior Megan Faraimo and redshirt senior Holly Azevedo. At the same time, the away team would need to shut down their opponents’ offense.

Game one started under the lights on a Thursday evening, which ended up as a nightmare for the Bears, falling 8-0 to Azevedo and Faraimo’s team. Cal’s offense managed to only record two hits total throughout the game and failed to get a runner further than second base. In the other dugout, UCLA’s Maya Brady helped lead the offensive charge against pitchers Sona Halajian and Annabel Teperson in an overpowering victory over the Bears.

Friday the 13th had back-and-forth scoring between the two competitors, with the Bears putting up a good fight early on. After being down 1-0 after the first inning, Cal’s Makena Smith responded with a three-run home run to give her team their first and only lead of the series. UCLA took back the momentum in the bottom half of the inning against pitcher Haylei Archer, producing six runs on five hits, including two extra-base hits.

With added runs in the fourth and fifth innings, the Bruins walked away with the 10-4 victory and two consecutive days with a win against the Bears. Each of these wins would be key for UCLA in its race against Arizona State for the title of Pac-12 champions.

The final game of the series and of the regular season featured a pitching rematch between Halajian and Acevedo. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, music blasted and the stands roared with fans of both sides as the teams took the diamond for possibly the last time.

The Bruins started the scoring in the bottom of the second, with RBI singles from Savannah Pola and Anna Vines. With Cal going down quietly in the top of the third, UCLA reinvigorated the crowd with a moonshot homer by Brady to deep center field, bringing in two runs and making the score 4-0. With great defensive plays by Cal second baseman D’Asha Saiki and first baseman Smith, new pitcher Teperson was able to escape the inning with no further damage.

Kennedy Thomas started a rally for the Bears in the top of the fifth but was quickly erased and caught stealing. With a couple heads up plays from Smith at first base in the bottom of the fifth, Cal escaped a third and second with no outs situation, managing to only allow one run.

In the top of the penultimate inning, Smith led off with a ringing single to left, followed by a single from Acacia Anders a couple batters later. With a pinch runner on second base, a ball in the dirt prompted the runner to try and advance to third, only to be thrown out. The next batter struck out to end the Bears’ rally.

Cal came up to the plate in the top of the seventh down five runs. A walk to Amani Bradley got Bear fans on their feet, but with one out remaining in the game, Saiki hit a screamer to second base that was caught to conclude Cal’s season.

With the NCAA tournament participants announced on ESPN2 on Sunday, Cal just missed out on getting a playoff appearance in 2022. Before matching up against UCLA, the team was in sixth place in the Pac-12 rankings, which would have secured a playoff berth.

However, their three consecutive losses to the Bruins dropped them down to last place in the division. Arizona State took the Pac-12 title, with UCLA, Washington, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State and Arizona also making the tournament, in a chase to win the College World Series.

Joshua Kamins covers softball. Contact him at [email protected].