Softball Suffers Skid as Pac-10 Play Begins

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

That was Spring Break in a nutshell for the Cal softball team.

It was a time to win, it was a time to lose.

The No. 4 Bears managed to pull off victories against No. 8 Stanford and top-ranked Washington. But they also lost a game the same teams in addition to dropping both games in a doubleheader to unranked Pacific and losing to No. 3 UCLA.

It was a time for great pitching, it was a time for pitching disasters.

Sure, junior Nicole DiSalvio hurled a no-hitter against Stanford. And yes, sophomore Jocelyn Forest pitched the entire game in a close 12-inning marathon session in Cal's close loss to the Cardinal, and also held the Huskies scoreless when the teams clashed Saturday.

But the entire Bears staff wasn't at that same high caliber level when the team lost in a 10-1 debacle to the same Washington squad yesterday.

"The pitching (Saturday) was not up to Jocelyn's ability," Cal coach Diane Ninemire said. "We were very fortunate we got out of some tough situations. (Sunday) it just fell apart from the first pitch. We were hitting poorly and it was a terrible performance by our pitching staff. All the way around we didn't execute."

The Bears (38-9, 2-3 in the Pac-10) kicked off the week with a split against Stanford, picking up a 6-5 win in the first game of the series but losing the second, 2-0. Cal dropped a pair of games to the Tigers Wednesday, 3-2 and 2-0. The Bears were handed a 6-1 loss by defending national champion UCLA Friday. Cal then beat Washington, 2-0, Saturday before the Huskies stunned the Bears to drop them to 2-5 over the break.

Forest only faced three batters in a disastrous outing yesterday. She hit leadoff batter Rosie Leutzinger with her first pitch, allowed Kelly Hauxhurst to slap a single and then walked Kim DePaul to load the bases.

DiSalvio didn't fare much better, walking Jennifer Topping to score Leutzinger. Three batters later, Melissa Downs knocked a two-run single off the center field wall to put the Dawgs up, 4-0. In the second inning, DiSalvio gave up three more runs on a homer by Jamie Clark.

The last time Cal lost a mercy-rule shortened game - in which a team leading by eight or more runs is declared the victor without playing the full seven innings - was when it lost to then-No. 1 Arizona in 1998.

"It's a long season," Ninemire said. "These kind of days are going to happen. We know we're going to be competitive. Handling the pressure (of being a top-5 team) is tough for such a young team. But we'll pull it together and hopefully we'll peak at the right time like we did last year (when the team went to the Women's College World Series)."

The Bears have also been struggling at the plate in recent games. Cal was outscored by its opposition, 30-13, over the break and only shortstop Eryn Manahan's solo home run kept the Bears from being held scoreless and hitless in their loss to Washington. According to Ninemire, the team has become much less aggressive at the plate, and nowhere was this more evident than in the eight times that Cal batters struck out looking in the two-game series against the Huskies (38-4, 2-1).

"We've just been looking at too many pitches," Manahan said. "They came out and just wanted to kill us (yesterday). We come up to the plate and act like we're intimidated. We just need to be more relaxed going up every time."

"(Washington's) batters were very into swinging at first pitches," Ninemire added. "We need to make the most of our at-bats. We're taking pitches and getting behind in the count and then we're forced to swing at balls that aren't down the middle of the plate - pitchers' strikes, not batters' strikes."

Cal continues its grueling Pac-10 season when it visits the No. 2 Wildcats Friday before heading to Tempe, Ariz. to take on No. 5 Arizona State. All of the nation's top-5 teams are members of the Pac-10 and the lowest ranked conference team is No. 23 Oregon.


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