No.19 Cal Softball (11-0) faces real tests (maybe) this weekend
Not only have the Cal Bears been winning games, they have been winning games with seemingly ease for the most part (3 of the 5 wins last weekend was via the run-rule). Does this mean that the Bears will be serious NCAA title contenders in 2018? How about finishing in the top tier of the Pac-12?
In this super early going of the season, it does appear that NCAA and Pac-12 contenders are basically the same thing. Washington Huskies have just ascended to the No.1 ranking for the first time in 8 years. Undefeated UCLA is ranked 3rd. Oregon Ducks are 5th while the Arizona Wildcats are 13th. Even the Arizona State Sun Devils are currently ranked ahead of the Bears at 17th.
The Bears have yet to play any ranked teams. Of course, the argument can be made that those teams are not ranked for being soundly defeated by the Bears; however, this argument only works if you can say that the Cal opponents are so demoralized that they are stuck in a rut (so this is a bad argument). The opponents that have been conquered by the Bears so far this year includes: 2x UC Santa Barbara (6-7), 2x Santa Clara (0-5), 2x Sacramento State (4-7), Fordham (0-5), Loyola Marymount (6-5-1), Cal Poly (4-6), UC Riverside (7-4, including win over Stanford), and St. Mary’s (0-11). They all have losing record with the exception of UC Riverside.
Good thing for the Bears is that things are about to change this weekend when the Bears return to Palm Springs for Mary Nutter Classics Part 2. Bears will take on North Carolina (5-5), No.6 Texas A&M (9-0), CSUN (4-7), Cal State Fullerton (3-6), and Long Beach State (9-1, receiving votes in the top 25 poll). This is easily the toughest stretch of non-conference games for the Bears. It should be very interesting to see how the team will fare.
Bears have done a decent job offensively, but it’s the pitching that has really shined. The Cal pitching tandem of last year’s ace Zoe Conley and new transfer Kamalani Dung have a combined ERA of 0.60. Both pitched about half of the current innings. Conley has 45 K’s and 8 walks in 38.2 innings. Dung has 36 K’s and 7 walks in 31.1 innings. Bears have avoided the wild pitches (just 1 by Dung) and has only been taken deep 3 times. Defense has been okay for the Bears to allow merely 3 unearned runs, although 13 errors are quite plenty for just 11 games.
Offensively, every position in the lineup has hit quite well with the exception of catcher (oh, if only top prospect Jocelyn Alo had picked Cal over Oklahoma). All other spots in the lineup is batting at least 0.320 and have a OBP of at least 0.350. Six Bears have OBP above 0.400 in the early season small sample size.
As a team, the Bears have hit 8 homers so far from 7 players. The entire team as a whole is slashing 0.351/0.410/0.537 (batting average/on base percentage/slugging percentage) line, which is quite good. Lindsay Rood leads the way with 2 bombs and 4 doubles. 1B Kobie Pettis is the top hitter for the Bears with the slash line of 0.433/0.538/0.700 with a team leading 8 walks and 5 doubles. After a slowish start in the first weekend, Cal’s Team USA member SS Jazmyn Jackson is hitting once again; her average is now a healthy 0.342. Jackson has hit at either the top of the lineup or 3rd.
Head coach Diane Ninemire, the winningest coach in Cal history across all sports, has started 4 freshmen on the regular basis. LF Mikayla Coehlo is currently hitting 0.417/0.447/0.611 and has found herself in the top 4 of the lineup with Rood, Pettis, and Jackson. 3B Karlee Sparacino is hitting 0.364. CF Sabrina Nunez is hitting 0.350. The lone struggling freshman is Lauren Espalin (4 for 18) who is sharing time with JuCo transfer Marcella Kay (2 for 12).
After few seasons of being really aggressive on the basepath (particularly when the Bears were not hitting any homers), Bears have stole 17 bases in 20 attempts. Jackson and Rood are each 4 for 4.
Only 1 of the first 11 games have been at home for Cal Softball, so the success is not due to the home field advantage. Then again, the season opening Sacramento tournament opponents are more like the typical fall game opponents than spring opponents. Bears will finally get to boost their strength of schedule this weekend. With all the success thus far, I expect the Bears to play with a lot of confidence.
Bears will next play in a tournament at Hawaii and at Fresno for the next two weekends - both without a lot of serious great teams. Then again, the Bears will face many ranked teams come the Pac-12 play.
I know that it is a cop out, but it is way too early to determine just how good this Cal team is. There are hints of a great team, but they really have not been tested. Given how making the NCAA tournament is the norm and a great season would be a trip to the College World Series for the lofty Cal Softball standard, this might not be a story book season (I would not book a trip to Oklahoma City) just yet.
If the Bears are still undefeated by the end of this weekend (a real possibility, in my opinion), then I will escalate the Cal Softball hype alarm to the next, higher level.
Cal Baseball (1-2) is ready for home opener, hosts 4 games series vs. CSU Bakersfield
Despite leaving their first weekend of play with a losing record, I thought Cal Baseball looked quite impressive (via the free online stream last weekend). Bears won the season opener (the 1st game of the Neu Era) 6-1 over host San Diego behind the strong pitching of sophomore ace Jared Horn (who apparently is sound physically after the tragic fall car accident) with a save by Aaron Shortridge.
In the slug fest that was game 2, Golden Bears showed that they would not quit and continued to score runs despite the deficit. Although there were some bullpen depth issue for the Bears in this one (game 1 of a doubleheader) with San Diego prevailing at the end 11-8, the Cal offense was very impressive with slugger Andrew Vaughn hitting two homers and going 5 for 5 at the plate. Cal starter Joey Matulovich struggled mightily in the first but managed to escape by only allowing 4 runs and stayed in the game through 5 innings (he left when Cal was leading). Cal gave up the lead when Arman Sabouri struggled in his 2nd inning and close Erik Martinez can not stop the fire. Both Sabouri and Martinez are expected to be the main bullpen horses for the Bears in 2018.
Maybe the Bears are tired, but they ended the trip with a whimper against Cincinnati. Bears lost 3-1 and were shutdown by basically two Bearcats pitchers - starter Perez who went 5 innings and a reliever Orndorff who went 3 innings. Cal starter Matt Ladrech allowed two solo homers and took the loss.
Still, through 3 games - sophomore first baseman Andrew Vaughn is picking up where he left off when he won the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and seriously contended for the Player of the Year. Vaughn is batting 0.538 with a team high 7 hits, 2 homers, 14 total bases, and 6 RBI.
The Cal lineup, same for all 3 games, has consisted of all returning players with the exception of Darren Baker at 2nd base. Things may change this weekend when OF Jeffrey Mitchell Jr., a starter last year, is no longer suspended by the team.
Looking at the Baseball schedule, the first true test for the team may be the tournament at Frisco, Texas next weekend when the Bears will play Baylor, Louisiana Tech, Texas A&M, and Xavier. Nevertheless, let’s not over look CSUB this weekend. It is a 4 game series with a doubleheader on Saturday. It would be interesting to see if the 4th starter is a young guy (someone who will be the midweek starter) or maybe Tanner Dodson, Cal’s best two-way player who only pitched in relief this past weekend.
Regardless, baseball is back, and it should be a fun weekend at Evans Diamond this weekend.
Planning a trip to Evans Diamond this weekend? We've got a bunch planned, including a Welcome Back Sunday celebration complete with autographs, running the bases and face painting! #GoBears pic.twitter.com/aXWS0eyS2R— Cal Baseball (@CalBaseball) February 22, 2018