Baseball at No. 1 Oregon State
Fresh off a series in Washington, where Cal Baseball lost two out of three to the Huskies (plus a home win over San Francisco), the Bears return to the Pacific Northwest but this one is going to be more of a challenge. The Bears face No. 1 Oregon State (who have pretty much had that ranking most, if not all season) who stand at 35-4. Their losses have come against unranked opponents in Ohio State, Washington, UCLA and USC but the Beavers own sweeps of No. 19* Arizona at home and No. 14 Stanford on the road.
This is a crossroads series for the Bears, who stand at 21-21 but own a solid 12-9 conference record. The final 12 games for the Bears are all against ranked opponents (home series against Furd and No. 8 TCU, plus the season ending roadtrip to Arizona after this). With the quality of opponents, if the Bears go 6-6 and remain at .500 they could make a case for an at-large bid as their not-very-good-now RPI would certainly shoot up.
(* All rankings based on USA Today Coaches poll. There are six and they all vary greatly)
The problem is most of the Bears wins have come at home, against weak teams. We know about the sweeps of Arizona State, Washington State and USC. Those teams happen to be the bottom three members of the conference (all with 6-12 Pac-12 records). The Bears are 5-15 on the road, including series losses to Utah and Washington and a sweep by UCLA (none of whom are daunting opponents). It is thus a scary task for the Bears against the Top Team in the Nation.
There is still room for optimism though. The pitching staff has been improving and improving all season. Jared Horn has survived a tough start to the season to get his ERA down to 3.44. Although he has a 4+ ERA, Joey Matulovich has won 4 starts with one loss. Injured early, Matt Ladrech has come around to be a reliable Sunday starter who can always be counted on for a quality start (And should have had a win versus USC before the bullpen blew the save, nonetheless still owning a 2-1 record). Erik Martinez has been as reliable as it gets at the closer position, with other relievers stepping up as well.
The offense has shown that they are to be counted on as well, despite their youth. The only returning starter, Preston Grand Pre, missed most of the early part of the season (hand) but has picked up where he left off since returning getting 17 hits in his first 39 at bats. Cal leads the Pac-12 with 34 home runs with Freshmen Andrew Vaughn owning 12 and Denis Karas is second in the conference with 8.
The offense will need to stay hot because Oregon State’s strength is the starting pitching. Friday’s starter Luke Heimlich owns an insane ERA of 0.78 and Sunday’s starter Jake Thompson isn’t much worse at 1.07. Saturday’s starter Bryce Fehmel seems like he’d be a break with a 3.92 ERA but he owns a solid 4-2 record.
Also worth noting the Bears have had success against the Beavers in the past, including a 3-game sweep at Evans Diamond last year (With a much more talented Bears squad and an injured Beavers squad, but still).
Even one win would be fantastic against the No. 1 team but I’m sure the team has higher expectations. Let’s see how they do.
Friday: 7:05 start (Jared Horn vs. Luke Heimlich)
Saturday: 1:35 start (Joey Matulovich vs. Bryce Fehmel)
Sunday: 12:05 start (Matt Ladrech vs. Jake Thompson)
All three games can be seen on Pac-12 Network National and Bay Area with Daron Sutton and Kevin Stocker on the call.
Softball at No. 22 Arizona State
Cal Softball is also at a crossroads. Every Pac-12 series the Bears have been involved in has been a sweep. Unfortunately, only once was the Bears on the right end of those sweeps. It came against rival Stanford at home, but the Card have been pretty bad this year.
The Bears have been swept by No. 5 Oregon, No. 3 Arizona, No. 10 Utah (a two-game series as Game 3 was snowed out), No. 12 UCLA and most recently No. 8 Washington. They also lost all of their non-conference games against ranked teams, notably now No. 1 Florida and No. 4 Minnesota. It has been a tough schedule, in other words.
The Bears own a 27-19 record and have sprinkled in some cupcake non-conference wins, but I don’t think this is a team that would make the NCAA Tournament if the season ended today. (Though the tough schedule has them owning a solid RPI of 25)
Luckily, they have a chance to topple a ranked opponent for the first time as they take on Arizona State. The Devils stand at No. 22, slightly less imposing than the gauntlet of teams they’ve faced so far. If they can find a way to get the series (or even just one win), the Bears should have their case made for the NCAA Tournament. If not, the Bears can salvage their season at home with the regular-season-ending series against a decent Oregon State squad but it may be too little too late depending on how this weekend goes.
The main issue this season has been the offense. There has not been enough consistency against the tough opponents. Despite being plenty good at hitting singles and doubles, so far the team only has hit 10 home runs and has failed to get runners home. In their losses to Top 15 teams, they’ve been shutout 5 times and held to one run 5 times. Senior Annie Aldrete and sophomore Lindsay Rood have three home runs each and that’s enough to co-lead the Bears.
The pitching has been looking for a gem since Jolene Henderson graduated four years ago, and it is looking like they finally found one in sophomore Zoe Conley. With a 2.73 ERA and being responsible for 17 of Cal’s 27 wins, she has been a major bright spot for the team. But her inexperience has shown as quality opponents have been able to get runs off her, and she has given up 10 home runs so far. She also has a tendency to throw wild pitches or illegal pitches. It will be a big storyline to see if she can become one of the Pac-12’s best as a junior and senior.
I’d expect Zoe to start 2 of the 3 games with Stephanie Trzcinski doing one (likely Saturday). Stephanie has been solid in her own right... except once again against quality opponents. She has also given up 10 home runs but in 1/3rd of the innings that Zoe has pitched. The fact that the Sun Devils have 46 home runs (10 by Chelsea Gonzales) feels ominous.
For the Devils, expect to see Breanna Macha on the mound for most, if not all, of the series. She owns a 1.67 ERA.
Cal has historically done well against Arizona State but not recently. Since the Bears took 2 out of 3 vs. Arizona State to clinch the Pac-12 and the No. 1 seed in the Women’s College World Series Regionals in 2012, the Bears have lost every series to ASU, including a couple of 3 game sweeps. Hopefully that will change this year.
Friday and Saturday: 5PM starts, on Pac-12 Bay Area only. (Sorry those, like me, who only have Bay Area in Standard Def.)
Sunday: 3PM start on Pac-12 Bay Area AND National.
I am unable to find the broadcasters for the softball matches.
Should be a fun weekend for fans of Baseball and Softball. None of the games overlap (unless the game that starts first goes longer than usual) so cheer on the Bears as they look to make it to the College World Series. Although the Bears should be the underdogs in all six, that would just make any wins that come by even sweeter!