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Cal Softball on the NCAA bubble after series win over No.25 Arizona
Golden Bears might need to win the regular season finale series over No.8 UCLA to return to the NCAA tournament
This is the last week of the NCAA softball regular season. While other conferences are playing their conference tournaments to decide the winners of the 32 automatic bids, the Pac-12 will wait one more year before the inaugural Pac-12 Softball tournament.
With Cal currently on the outside of the projected fields of 64 (based on what I can find on the web), the Golden Bears’ shot to make the first NCAA tournament in the Chelsea Spencer era will likely rest on this weekend (Thursday-Saturday) series against the UCLA Bruins (No.8 in human-poll, No.5 in RPI). Cal Bears have the opportunity to improve their RPI (currently No.51) and possibly leap over teams such as No.45 Utah (who are found in all the projections) or some non-Pac-12 teams.
One would think that the Bears are relishing the opportunity to control their own destiny this week.
Cal Bears have not made the NCAA since 2018, the penultimate full season under Diane Ninemire. They were not selected despite a winning record in 2019. COVID then canceled the 2020 season. In 2021, Cal only posted a 17-20 record.
Heading toward this weekend’s showdown in Westwood, Cal (28-24-1, 8-13 Pac-12) is already assured of a winning record. However, they will need more than that - at least a win over the UCLA Bruins (40-8, 16-5), likely two - to feel good on Selection Sunday. The 64-team 2022 NCAA Softball Bracket will be revealed on Sunday, May 15th at 4 PM PT on ESPN2.
This past weekend, the Bears did improve their bid for one of the 32 at-large bids by taking 2 out of 3 against then No.25 Arizona (No.42 in the RPI) in their final home series.
Cal 7, Arizona 1
Cal’s two-way star Sona Halajian was the star of the series opener. Halajian pitched a complete game while also providing the offense, hitting a three-run bomb for her 12th homer of the season.
The Cal offense padded the lead with more runs in the next inning, courtesy of star Makena Smith, who had three hits in this game.
In the next inning, Freshman Acacia Anders slugged her 8th dinger to extend the Cal lead.
Sona Halajian won her 18th game of the season by limiting the Arizona Wildcats to just five hits while striking out six. The Cal ace had to work out of some early inning jams before the Cal offense and her put some runs on the board.
Cal 9, Arizona 2
Haylei Archer started this game for the Bears inside the circle. Archer did run into some problems in the top of the 3rd but limit the Arizona damage to just two runs.
Cal started to claw back with a run in the bottom of the 4th.
In the next inning, Kacey Zobac blasted a three-run homer to give the Golden Bears the lead.
In the same inning, D'Asha Saiki also hit a two-run homer to extend the Cal lead.
Showing their killer instinct, the Bears scored a total of 8 runs in the bottom of the 5th inning, capped by a two-run double from Anders.
Relieving Archer in the circle was freshman Anna Reimers who pitched a scoreless 4.2 innings to pick up only her second win of the season.
Cal clinched a series win over a solid Arizona team.
Arizona won the finale 5-2 on Sunday, despite the 13th homer from Halajian.
Nonetheless, Cal won a series over Arizona for the first time since 2013. 2013, perhaps not so coincidentally, was also the last time that the Cal Bears won a game over the UCLA Bruins (Cal is 0-19-1 against UCLA since then).
The Bruins are coming off a series loss to Arizona State. Furthermore, UCLA lost the finale to Utah (a win that might explain why Utah is ahead of Cal in RPI) the previous weekend, so they have lost 3 of the last 4 games.
Not to be overlooked is the fact that Cal will get an additional RPI boost because this series is played in Los Angeles (yes, I may be trying hard to spin this as a good thing). Cal may only be 5-12-1 on the road this year, but UCLA is not perfect at home. The Bruins are 18-1 with that loss being the most recent game.
Megan Faraimo (18-4, 1.75 ERA) is the Bruins’ ace. Holly Azevedo (16-2, 1.28 ERA) is their other starter. Golden Bears will need to solve these two this weekend. The fact that the Bears did not play UCLA over the last two years means that they are probably not that familiar with these pitchers. Then again, Cal’s Halajian will also have the element of unfamiliarity in her favor.
The Bruins have three double-digit home run hitters in Delanie Wisz (12), Briana Perez (10), and Maya Brady (10). They do slash a robust 0.315/0.392/0.521 as a team this year.
Then again, this Cal team has shown arguably more fight at times this year than some of the past few years when they did make the NCAA tournament. The 2022 Cal Softball squad is just dangerous enough to possibly surprise the Bruins.
Cal will need to get at least two tremendous efforts from their ace. The Cal offense that hits 0.297/0.374/0.471 as a team despite star Makena Smith missing a significant chunk of time (one would generally think that the NCAA committee would take this into consideration but they also just might overlook Cal since the program has not made the College World Series since 2012), will also need to show up.
We shall see if the Golden Bears can extend their season by pulling off some upsets this week.
Cal vs. UCLA
Where: Easton Stadium (Los Angeles, CA)
TV: Pac-12 Network
Game 1: Thursday, 7 PM PT
Game 2: Friday, 7 PM PT
Game 3: Saturday, 2 PM PT
ROLL ON YOU BEARS!