WATCH PREMIUM HIGHLIGHTS HERE
BERKELEY -- Usually, when your manager calls you a pest, that’s not a good thing. For California redshirt freshman left fielder Brian Celsi, it’s the highest of praise.
The professional burr-in-the-saddle became the third different Golden Bear to notch a walk-off base knock this weekend, ensuring a sweep of visiting Michigan with a one-out, first-pitch single lancing through the right side to drive home true freshman Sean Peters in the bottom of the ninth inning, putting Cal on top of the Wolverines, 2-1 in a Sunday matinee.
“He walked the guy before, and I’ve done well against side-winders before, and I knew he was going to throw me a strike,” Celsi said of Michigan reliever Jay Perry. “Really, all I was trying to do was put it in play. They had the infield in, a fly ball -- we had Sean Peters at third, and he can fly -- so I was just trying to stay short and hit the ball hard.”
Celsi finished his first collegiate series going 6-for-13 with one RBI and four runs scored from the nine hole.
“He’s a real pest, and he makes it hard on our pitchers in intrasquad games, because he fouls off so many pitches and he just runs up their pitch counts, when you’re a lot more concerned about how many pitches you’re throwing,” said head coach David Esquer. “That’s what we hope he does to the other team -- just keep running up their pitch counts and slapping some hits and really, just being a pest. To see him play the same way against an opponent as he does against us, that’s what you look for. He essentially won [Saturday’s] game with that steal of third. That changed the whole complexion of that inning and gave us a chance. We wouldn’t have been able to tie that game had he not made that move.”
For the third straight day, the bottom of the lineup was front-and-center when it came to manufacturing a walk-off rally. Pinch hitter Brendan Farney led off the bottom of the ninth with a five-pitch walk, and was bunted to second by first baseman Mitchell Kranson, who notched his first collegiate hit in the bottom of the second on a slow roller.
True freshman outfielder Devin Pearson -- playing in relief of right fielder Jacob Wark, who finished the series 4-for-9 with a 1-for-2 day on Sunday -- then took a sharp-eyed walk of his own, setting the stage for junior Mike Reuvekamp, who got the game-winning knock in the 10th inning on Saturday.
Reuvekamp worked the count to 2-1, before Perry’s fourth offering bounced and got away from catcher Cole Martin, moving both runners into scoring position. After a time out, the Bears sent Peters out to third to replace Farney. Reuvekamp was then thrown an intentional ball four, setting up the winning knock off the bat of Celsi.
“Me and Rev, we love to get after it,” Celsi said. “We’re not the biggest guys, so we definitely love being the underdogs. Me and Rev, we have a name: We’re the Thunder Down Under. Really, our job -- what we do -- is we get on for the 1-2-3.”
That 1-2-3 has been mostly the 2 and the 3 this weekend, with Andrew Knapp and Devon Rodriguez combining to go 12-for-26 over the three-game set, but on Sunday, it was the leadoff man’s turn to get in on the action. Junior center fielder Derek Campbell had not had a poor series coming into Sunday – going 3-for-7 with three runs and an RBI – but it was his sixth-inning solo home run off the wall of the RSF that put the Bears up, 1-0 for much of the game.
“I just tried to stay short,” Campbell said. “He got me on a slider – maybe it was a curve – and I swung through it, and I thought, ‘Alright, he might throw that again and come inside, so I’ve got to stay back and drive it the other way. I stayed back and he hung it, so I hit it.”
For the first time this weekend, Cal (3-0) got a strong effort out of its starting pitching, as junior lefty Michael Theofanopoulos fought through not having his best stuff to still remain competitive, throwing 5.0 innings, allowing three hits and three walks while striking out three.
“We hope it’s a real big step,” said Esquer. “He was as good as we’ve seen him in a long time, so that was positive. He was beating the bat. They were swinging and making contact, but he was beating the bat, and that’s big when you don’t have your strikeout stuff. You have to learn other ways to win, and he was able to do that.”
Theofanopoulos was backed by yet another strong effort from the Bears bullpen, which saw four pitchers each toss one inning, allowing just a total of four hits and one unearned run with one walk and two strikeouts. Over the three-game series, the bullpen tossed 18.1 innings, allowing one earned run and two total runs, with 12 strikeouts against seven walks. Cal relievers have given up 10 hits in that span.
“It was definitely better, one, to have your starter be able to give you five, and usually on Sunday, you know what’s left, so you can map it out pretty well,” Esquer said. “What you don’t want to have to do is cover seven, eight innings. For him to shrink the game to five, we felt pretty good to have the game at six, seven, eight and nine with [Ryan] Mason and [Chris] Muse-Fisher, who hadn’t pitched yet, and we knew Logan had another inning in him. There were a couple other guys, too, that, if we had a lead, we’d give a shot, as well. That set the tone for the whole game and allowed our bullpen to do what it did.”
Cal next takes the field on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at Sunken Diamond, facing Stanford in a non-conference match-up.
With Esquer using his bullpen sparingly on Sunday and spreading out the load, the Bears should be in good shape to get some innings out of Muse-Fisher, Mason and likely true freshman Collin Monsour. Monsour has been very effective in fall and spring intrasquad starts, hitting the high 80s with his fastball and showing good movement and poise. His fastball is between 86 and 90, and he’s shown a sweeping curve at 73-76 and a low-80s change.
“Based on how much we used our guys, we thought about maybe holding Muse-Fisher back, but Monsour still hasn’t pitched, and he was as good as we had in January,” Esquer said. “I’m sure we’re going to give him some innings.”