Bears Weather Tough Road Trip

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Death and taxes. Two things every American can count on. No matter what you do - unless you can find some way to sidestep the laws of the U.S. government or the laws of science - you have to face them eventually. It's inevitable.

The way things are looking, you might be able to add the Cal softball team's inevitable late-season surge to that list pretty soon.

In 1998, the Bears had lost six straight conference games heading into the final week of their regular season schedule. But Cal rebounded to sweep Oregon and Oregon State in a pair of doubleheaders and wound up heading to the NCAA Regionals.

In 1999, the Bears headed into their final two weeks of the regular season having gone 3-5 in their previous eight games. Then they exploded after a mid-week nonconference sweep of Sacramento State to sweep the Oregon schools and Stanford. The team rode that emotional high to a third-place finish at the Women's College World Series.

This year, the result in Oregon wasn't nearly as impressive, but it does provide the No. 9 Bears with some momentum heading into their Pac-10 finale with No. 2 Arizona and No. 4 Arizona State this coming weekend.

Sensing a pattern developing here?

Unlike death and taxes, though, the Bears are starting to enjoy their late-season surges.

"This team has really come around lately," Ninemire said. "This seems to happen every year. It's easy to get down on ourselves but we've remained pretty positive. This team has a lot of pride and a lot of character."

The Bears captured their weekend opener with a nail-biting 1-0 victory over No. 12 OSU Friday. Cal went on to Eugene, Oreg. and earned a split with the No. 16 Ducks, winning Saturday, 4-0, and losing by the same score Sunday.

And although the Bears (44-20, 5-13 in the Pac-10) struggled on offense Sunday - junior Pauline Duenas had the only two Cal hits - the team has taken significant strides defensively. Ninemire has stressed the importance of playing perfect defense throughout Pac-10 play and the focus on solid fielding is starting to pay off. The Bears extended their current streak of errorless games to five over the weekend.

Cal also got a boost from its pitching staff this weekend. Despite giving up four runs in three innings of work against Oregon Sunday, sophomore Jocelyn Forest (20-11) did hold the Beavers scoreless Friday, surrendering only four hits while fanning eight.

Junior Nicole DiSalvio also continues to show improvement from a mid-season slump. The hurler held OSU (36-17-1, 6-11) scoreless Saturday, allowing only five hits and a walk with four strikeouts. DiSalvio (15-9) came in to relieve Forest Sunday with another solid outing and held the No. 12 Beavers in check for the final three innings and striking out three.

"We're really charging balls (on defense) and playing really cleanly in the field right now," Ninemire said. "We're not getting caught making mistakes. Our defensive play has stepped up, and we're starting to capitalize on that."

All the pieces fell together in Cal's win over the Ducks Saturday. The Bears jumped out to an early lead in the first inning and never looked back. Shortstop Eryn Manahan, right fielder Kristen Morley and third baseman Candace Harper led off the game with back-to-back-to-back singles to load the bases for clean-up hitter Veronica Nelson. Nelson grounded out to second base, but drove in Manahan. With two outs and the bases still loaded, Duenas singled to right center to score Harper and Morley to put the Cal up, 3-0.

Oregon turned the tables on the Bears in the weekend finale, striking first with a two-run first and adding another pair in the third. Ducks hurler Connie McMurren (15-16) was dominant, only allowing two hits and striking out seven in her complete-game shutout.

Around the Horn

Freshman Veronica Nelson drew three more walks over the weekend bringing her NCAA-record single-season total to 77. . . Nelson also holds the Cal home run mark with 12 on the year, but has yet to hit one in Pac-10 play. . . Senior Lisa Iancin and sophomore Candace Harper each have 16 doubles this year tying them with Jessica Parker's 1997 mark for most two-baggers in Cal history.


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