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What to watch for when Arizona softball faces ‘scary’ Cal team in Berkeley

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Photo by Ryan Kelapire

The fifth-ranked Arizona softball team takes its 20-game winning streak into Berkeley this weekend where it will face the last-place California Golden Bears.

The Wildcats are 38-7 overall and a perfect 15-0 in the Pac-12, the only unbeaten team in the conference. Here are some things to watch for in the Bay Area.

Staying in the moment

This is the ultimate trap series for the Wildcats.

After their trip to Berkeley, they wrap up the regular season with a home series against No. 3 Washington and a road series against No. 2 UCLA, which will likely determine the Pac-12 champion.

UA coach Mike Candrea said he warns his team all the time about staying in the moment and not looking too far down the road, and he knows that mentality is even more critical this weekend.

“I think the maturity level of this group is good, and I think they understand what needs to be done because they’ve been through it,” he said. “That junior class is very battle-tested and have been through the ups and downs, and so I think they understand that they better play one game at a time.”

They have seen what happens when they don’t.

“We kind of did that with GCU and they stayed in the game with us,” said UA center fielder Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza. “So I think just going in and knowing who we are as a team and what we can do and just playing our game and doing that no matter what happens (is the key).”

Better than their record indicates?

If you are a big believer that a team is only as good as its record indicates, then Cal is the worst team in the Pac-12. The Bears enter 25-23 overall and 3-15 in the Pac-12, their only league wins coming against Utah, Oregon State and Oregon.

But a deeper look into the numbers suggests they are better than that.

Led by Lindsay Rood, who is hitting .402 with 15 doubles, four triples and four homers, Cal is fifth in the Pac-12 in runs (237) and sixth in batting average (.289).

Meanwhile, the Bears are fourth in ERA (2.80), thanks to the duo of Kamalani Dung (11-9, 2.37 ERA, 131 K, 130.0 IP) and Zoe Conley (8-14, 3.53 ERA, 105 K, 133.0 IP).

So what’s Cal’s problem? The Bears are second to last in the conference in fielding percentage and they lose a lot of close games. No better example than the UCLA series. Cal got swept in Westwood, but lost two games by one run, including an extra-inning loss.

“They’re a scary team because they have some talent,” Candrea said. “And on any given day, they can roll it out with anyone. So I think our goal right now is just take care of the things that we do, make sure that we’re prepared. And we know that we’re going to be in for a dogfight, and I think that’s kind of what the Pac-12 is all about. You can throw the records to the side when you play those games, especially when you’re playing (on the road).”

Don’t run on Dejah

Arizona junior catcher Dejah Mulipola is such a good hitter that it can be easy to overlook her defensive prowess. Plus, she rarely gets to showcase it.

Opponents have only tried to steal 14 bases against Mulipola this season. Only seven of those attempts were successful. Mulipola, who made the US national team, has impeccable footwork and a cannon for an arm, so teams know better than to run on her.

But Cal might be the one team daring enough to do it. The Bears lead the Pac-12 in stolen bases (56) and, more impressively, have only been thrown out three times.

Rood is 29 for 29. Amani Bradley is 10 for 10.

Tailoring McQuillin’s workload

As the ace of a staff, UA senior Taylor McQuillin can expect to have a major workload when Arizona faces Washington and UCLA to round out the regular season. She can expect to pitch a lot in the postseason, too. Duh.

For that reason, it would not be surprising if Arizona tries to lighten McQuillin’s workload against Cal in an attempt to keep her as fresh as possible, mentally and physically, for the final stretch of the season.

Thanks to a ton of lopsided games, McQuillin has only pitched 136.1 innings this season, about 100 fewer than she threw last season.

And, perhaps not coincidentally, she has posted a career-best 1.23 ERA this year.

Jazzy juniors

Arizona’s junior class is special and here are a couple reasons why.

UA’s five junior position players — Mulipola, Palomino-Cardoza, Reyna Carranco, Jessie Harper, and Malia Martinez — are hitting a combined .381 with 72 total home runs and 244 RBI this season. If the five players were their own team, they would lead the NCAA in batting average and have the fifth most home runs in the country; their 244 combined RBI is more than 250 Division I teams have scored this season.

Also, an Arizona junior leads the Pac-12, or is tied for the lead, in every major statistical category: batting average (Carranco, .444), slugging percentage (Mulipola, .916), on-base percentage (Mulipola, .500), runs scored (Harper, 53), RBI (Harper, 55), doubles (Palomino-Cardoza, 15), home runs (Harper, 21), total bases (Harper, 127) and walks (Mulipola, 32).

Three day games

Cal cannot host night games (more on that in a second), so it will be three early starts between the Wildcats and Bears.

Game 1 is Friday at 3 p.m. MST, Game 2 is at 1 p.m. MST, and Game 3 is at noon MST. All three can be watched on Cal Live Stream.

Cal’s stadium needs a lot of work

Levine-Fricke Field, built in 1995, seats 500 people and looks like some of the high school stadiums you see in Tucson:

Mercifully, the Bears are getting a new facility in 2021 that will seat 1,500 people and include expanded permanent seating, covered batting cages, locker rooms, a video board, restrooms, field lighting and an elevated press box among other things.

The updates will allow Cal to host NCAA Tournament games, something its current venue cannot do.