After beginning conference play with a record of 2-3-1, Cal hosts the Arizona State Sun Devils in search of its first Pac-12 series victory.
The blue and gold enter the matchup with a 20-7-1 record, while ASU is 17-8. The last time these two teams met, the Sun Devils swept the Bears in Tempe.
At this point, Cal should approach the series with a sense of urgency. The team has struggled with conference play in recent years, where it’s rarely its best self — now would be the ideal time for the Bears to flip the script.
There seems to be no other choice for the Bears, as the opponent from the sunshine state means business — only one year removed from an intimidating record of 43-11.
A smart move for the blue and gold would be to follow the lead of its catcher.
Kacey Zobac produced 10 RBIs alone in the Bears’ latest series against Oregon State. The Bay Area local ranks first on the team in batting average, hitting a staggering .384.
Zobac attributed her success to those helping her strategize against opponents, also suggesting that this week’s preparation for ASU is no different.
“We have a great coaching staff who helps prepare us every week for what’s coming,” Zobac said. “Trusting the plans they have for us going into the weekend while taking every at-bat one at a time.”
She’s been reliable for the Bears as of late, posting at least one RBI in four of her last six appearances.
The blue and gold are currently in their roughest stretch of the season thus far. Following a 17-4 start, Cal has since gone 3-3-1. At this point, the war of attrition has become a crucial factor and is something to watch for in the series against the Sun Devils.
Fortunately for the Bears, they have a two-way player who can get the job done in both the batter’s box and the pitcher’s circle to alleviate stress on all positions.
Sona Halajian has a .263 batting average with three home runs, while pitching 35 innings and recording 29 strikeouts. Her versatility has been extremely valuable to the blue and gold this year.
She explained the mental side of being a rare pitcher-hitter hybrid.
“Being on both sides of the ball, you really have to manage your headspace,” Halajian said. “I’m just looking to take it pitch by pitch, I don’t like to get ahead of anything. Every single pitch is a battle. Every single batter is a battle. Every inning is a battle.”
Halajian takes pride in being mature and someone her teammates can turn to regardless of a game’s score — her personality illuminates Cal’s theme of trust on and off the diamond and is surely a reflection of what head coach Chelsea Spencer wants in a player.
To compete with a solid ASU program, the Bears need to address their season-long issues on the mound.
Out of nine conference teams, the blue and gold rank eighth in ERA, seventh in opposing batting average and last in strikeouts. If Cal wants to finish its homestand with a series win, the team will have to play above those figures.
The Bears, albeit struggling, have the capability to dominate their opponents — it shouldn’t be forgotten that the blue and gold had a nine-game winning streak this season.
Cal has the opportunity to give its fans a treat; the blue and gold faithful have only seen the Bears play five games in Berkeley, while their remaining 23 contests have been on the road.
Considering Arizona State has beaten the Bears in eight of their last 10 meetings, the blue and gold are eager to snap out of the recent dry spell and get back on track.