7 storylines to watch in this weekend of Pac-12 softball (April 8-10)
Another weekend of Pac-12 softball kicks off Friday and here are seven storylines to keep an eye on as the action unfolds.
For the full schedule, be sure to head to Pac-12.com/softball/schedule.
UCLA extending its winning streak to historic levels
The No. 3-ranked Bruins (31-3, 9-0 Pac-12) have won 24 straight, their last loss coming all the way back on Feb. 20 to then-No. 6 Florida State in extra innings.
UCLA is one victory shy of tying the longest win streak of head coach Kelly Inouye-Perez's career — 25 straight wins to open the 2018 season — and should be confident as it visits a Stanford team that it has beaten 19 out of the last 21 meetings, including a sweep last season.
In case you're wondering, the longest winning streak in UCLA history is 35 games back in 1999 and 2001.
Stanford generating enough offense to beat the Bruins
The Cardinal only mustered one run in four games against the Bruins last season, and this year could be more of the same. UCLA enters with the top ERA in conference play (1.13) while Stanford scores the fewest runs per game (1.5). The Cardinal's best chance at pulling off an upset could come from a signature performance by Alana Vawter, the Pac-12 leader in shutouts (7).
Despite a solid résumé, Stanford (24-9, 3-3 Pac-12) ranks just outside the Top 25 in the latest polls. A win over the Bruins could be what the Cardinal needs to receive some national respect.
How will the week off affect No. 16 Arizona State?
The Sun Devils (25-5, 6-0 Pac-12) are riding a 14-game winning streak into this weekend's series at No. 14 Oregon, where their perfect 8-0 road record will be tested by a Ducks team that is recovering from a sweep at UCLA last weekend.
ASU is coming off a bye week, so it will be interesting to see if the time off will benefit the Sun Devils or cool them down. The last time they took the field they outscored Arizona 28-2 in a three-game sweep in Tucson.
Led by Yannira Acuña and Cydney Sanders, ASU is No. 1 in the Pac-12 in batting average (.344), on-base percentage (.444), slugging percentage (.662) and home runs (56).
The Ducks continuing a daunting part of their schedule
After hosting ASU, Oregon (24-8, 4-5 Pac-12) will visit No. 20 Arizona before returning to Eugene to face No. 11 Washington and Oregon State. That means, including UCLA, the Ducks will have five straight series against ranked teams — a stretch that may define their seeding in the NCAA Tournament.
Should Oregon hold its own, it will have a strong case for a top-16 seed and the chance to host an NCAA Regional. The Ducks are in great shape right now, ranking 12th in RPI.
A soaring Oregon State team seeks to snap its losing streak to Arizona
The Beavers have lost 15 straight to the Wildcats dating back to 2016, but this might be their best chance to end that skid. OSU is red-hot after sweeping California last weekend to improve to 5-4 in Pac-12 play. In their last seven games, the Beavers have outscored their opponents 29-2. Senior Mariah Mazon and freshman Sarah Haendiges have been lights out in the circle.
Arizona, meanwhile, enters the weekend 1-8 in Pac-12 play, but it did beat Washington in walk-off fashion last Sunday to give it some momentum heading to Corvallis.
A series win over the Wildcats would help cement Oregon State as one of the top teams in the country. The Beavers rank as high as 20th in some major polls, but remain unranked in others.
Sharlize Palacios and Arizona's pitching rounding into form
Palacios was one of the top sluggers in the country last season and appears to be recapturing that form after a slow start to the season. The UA catcher racked up five hits in last weekend's series vs. Washington to snap an 0-for-19 hitless streak. That included a clutch two-run walk-off homer in the series finale.
It was only a matter of time before Palacios got back on track, and Arizona's offense will benefit greatly if it continues. The Wildcats are already dealing with the loss of 2021 Pac-12 batting champion Janelle Meoño, who has been out for several weeks with a foot injury.
That said, nothing will help the Wildcats (20-12, 1-8 Pac-12) more than if their pitching finds its groove. UA has posted a 7.88 ERA in Pac-12 play, the worst mark in the conference by more than two runs.
Arizona scored five or more runs in every game of the Washington series — good enough to win it — but still dropped two out of three because the Huskies plated seven or more runs in each contest.
Cal and Utah staying afloat with a series win
It's a bounceback weekend for both squads as the Utes (18-16, 2-4 Pac-12) dropped a series at Stanford last weekend, while the Golden Bears (21-15, 3-6 Pac-12) were swept by Oregon State, extending their losing streak to five games.
The team that takes this series in Salt Lake City will still be in the thick of the conference standings. The loser risks falling to the bottom.
The Bears won three of four against the Utes in Berkeley last season.
For more Pac-12 softball coverage, head to Pac-12.com/sport/softball.