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Cal Softball: Analyzing Dominance Through Defeat

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The Bears hosted UCLA last weekend, and the Bruins came in hot. Winners of 8 of their last 9, including a series win over a ranked Washington squad in Seattle, might UCLA pose a challenge?

Nope. Cal outscored UCLA 21-3 in a 3 game sweep. They held a team that averages nearly 7 runs a game to just 1 run a game. It was never particularly close.

As Cal adds victory after dominating victory, it becomes difficult to come up with new superlatives to describe this season. In trying to solve my dilemma, I hit on a potentially counter-intuitive way to look at the season. Let's analyze the three games that Cal has lost!

Now I know what you’re thinking – this is the #1 team in the nation, they win 94% of their games . . . and you want to talk about the losses?! Well, it does sound masochistic. But I think how Cal has lost says just as much about the team as how they win. Let’s look deeper:

3-1 loss (10 innings) at #18 RPI Hawaii

Three important facts: Hawaii is highly ranked, this game was on the islands, and it went into multiple extra innings.

Perhaps the most astounding stat? Cal had 14 base runners (7 hits, 7 walks) to Hawaii’s 3. I can only begin to speculate, but I would imagine that it’s incredibly, incredibly rare to lose a game in which you earn almost 5 times as many base runners. The box score of this game should be put in an encyclopedia as an example of why sports see so few undefeated season.

1-0 loss at #7 RPI Oregon

Another reason teams don’t go undefeated: sometimes you run into a pitcher when they’re on top of their game and there’s not much you can do. Even then, Oregon didn’t score their only run until the 6th and it required a bunt, a wild pitch and a two out single, and the runner still almost got thrown out in the middle of it all. If Oregon’s runner had been called out at 3rd this game might still be going.

7-3 loss vs. #10 RPI Arizona

This is the only loss of the season that doesn’t feel kinda fluky. It’s also the only game of the year in which Cal’s opponent scored more than 5 runs. Frankly, it makes me wonder if Valerie Arioto and Jolene Henderson made an agreement to both have bad days for the exact same day to minimize the damage. Of course, Cal averages 7 runs/game so it still took a decent pitching performance from Arizona to win this one.

This is the only game of the year in which Cal inarguably wasn’t the better team that day.

Of course, Cal has had wins that perhaps needed an assist from lady luck. The Bears do have an 8-2 record in games decided by two runs or less. But when you see what it takes for this team to actually lose a game it gives you just as good a sense of what they’ve done as looking at the wins.

Other scattered weekly thoughts

Despite Cal’s dominance, a challenger has emerged: Arizona State swept away Washington to stay tied with Cal in the loss column. The Sun Devils have even been hot enough to steal a solitary first place votes away from Cal in onepoll. Luckily this battle will be decided on the diamond . . . specifically, Cal’s diamond when ASU comes to town.

It is worth noting that ASU has arguably had the good fortune of a rainout in two tough road games in the state of Oregon. Perhaps if the weather had been nicer ASU would have picked up another loss or two. But as it stands right now only a shocking stumble against weaker teams (Utah and Oregon St.) could prevent a conference-deciding series to finish the regular season.

Keep May 10th-12th open on your calendar, because you need to make it up to Strawberry Canyon early to get tickets to this one.

Improved capacity at Levine-Fricke Field

The athletic department has added temporary bleachers which means two things: 1) more people can watch the best softball team in the country and 2) I believe Cal is making a bid to host NCAA regionals. Obviously Cal would be a shoo-in based on talent – 5 other Pac-12 teams will probably be hosting regionals this year – but the size and infrastructure of Cal’s home diamond has always been an issue. I don’t know if the stadium has been improved enough to meet the NCAA’s standards, but I appreciate that the athletic department is trying to remedy an unfortunate situation, and I hope that either way they continue to take steps to improve the facilities over the next few years.

If Cal does get to host NCAA regionals and super-regionals then anywhere between 5 and 10 home games might still be left on the schedule. Strawberry Canyon, #1 Cal softball . . . I'm planning on attending my first Cal softball game soon, and if you're in the area try to make it!