After picking up a pair of wins in the doubleheader against SUU on Tuesday, the Utah softball team will be back to Pac-12 play this weekend. The Utes will have their second conference series at home this season and will welcome Cal to Utah Softball Stadium in a three-game series.
This is an important series for the team because it is its first realistic opportunity to run the table on its home field. The Utes’ last home series came against Oregon, and though they played well, Oregon was the more talented team.
The games over the weekend are critical to setting the tone for the remainder of Utah’s season, as it will need to come out strong and show the rest of the conference that it is ready to compete. The Utes also need to demonstrate that they are a tough team to beat at home.
Utah enters this weekend with a 24-13 record overall and a 2-7 record in the Pac-12. The Golden Bears enter with a 26-7 overall record and are 4-5 in conference play, and have proven to be a contender for that No. 3 spot in the conference after Oregon and UCLA. That said, that third spot is likely the goal of most teams in the Pac-12.
And it is no different for Utah.
“Most teams in our conference are going to be fighting for third place,” said Utah coach Amy Hogue.
One of the bigger storylines heading into this series with Cal is what happened the last time these two teams met in Salt Lake City. Utah clearly remembers last year’s series with the Golden Bears, as it resulted in a big achievement for the program, when the Utes won all three games and swept a series for the first time since joining the Pac-12.
“We got our first sweep against them last season,” Hogue said. “They have a lot of the same pitching as they did last year. They are playing a lot better though, so obviously there’s been improvement in that aspect.”
The team is using its experience from last year to motivate the players as they head into the series.
“We just need to remember what happened last time we played them,” said captain Kate Dickman.
The matchup this time may prove to be just as difficult as last year’s series, though. Cal has a team ERA of 2.97 with Stephanie Trzcinski leading the way for the Golden Bears with an 11-1 record. Perhaps more notable than the team’s ERA is its batting average.
Cal is hitting .343 as a team, led by Jazmyn Jackson, who leads the team with 57 hits and a .467 average. The Golden Bears also have hit the long ball well, totaling 27 so far this season. Cheyenne Cordes and Danielle Henderson have combined for 18 of those home runs.
The Utah pitching staff and scouting team will need to keep these Cal athletes from teeing off against them during the series.
“We’re going to go into this series with confidence,” said Dickman. “I want us to have the confidence that we are going to win each game, even though we need to focus on one at a time.”
All series games will be played at the Utah Softball Stadium, with the first game scheduled to start at 4 p.m. MT on Thursday.