SAN FRANCISCO -- Whether it was the fact that spring football – and therefore divided time, thoughts and allegiances – being over, or just the cozy environs of Dante Benedetti Diamond, California right fielder Jacob Wark came alive for the first time in weeks on Tuesday, going 3-for-5 with two runs scored as the Bears downed pesky San Francisco, 5-2 in their final game before turning on the lights for the first time ever at Evans Diamond on Thursday at 7 p.m.
“Give USF credit – they’re a good ballclub,” said head coach David Esquer. “They’ve beaten everybody. You look up and down their schedule, they’ve played the Cal Poly’s and the Oregon State’s and Missouri and Gonzaga, and they’ve beat everybody. This is a good win for us.”
Cal (15-10) downed the Dons, who, despite an 11-13 overall record, own wins over then-No. 11 Arizona and the then-No. 4 Beavers, dealing OSU its first loss of the season on March 12 at Goss Stadium in Corvallis, Ore.
The Bears used six pitchers on Tuesday, in order to get the bullpen back on its feet after a 9.0-inning, 10-earned run weekend at UCLA, and got exactly what they needed, thanks to five strong innings from sophomores Keaton Siomkin (two hits, two walks, three strikeouts in three innings) and Chris Muse-Fisher, who used an array of breaking and off-speed junk pitches to strike out five of the six hitters he faced. St. Ignatius product Dylan Nelson -- after throwing just 2.2 innings on Sunday – earned his second save of the season with 2.0 innings of relief, allowing one inherited runner to score and notching two strikeouts and no walks.
“Nelly came out of the game early on Sunday, and we had to kind of script it,” Esquer said. “Some of the young guys put a wrench into that script by not being able to go as long as we needed them to. We had hoped that [Collin] Monsour and [Jake]Schulz would be able to take the load.”
San Francisco, on the other hand, used nine pitchers, giving up five runs -- three earned -- on nine hits, five walks, one passed ball, one wild pitch and two hit batters.
Blow by Blow
Cal crept ahead in the third on the strength of a two-out rally, keyed by an error from shortstop Jourdan Weiks, who saw a grounder from counterpart Mike Reuvekamp skip off the heel of his glove and into left field with a chance to end the inning. The vaunted one-two punch of Devon Rodriguez and Andrew Knapp then came up with back-to-back rocket singles to left center and center, respectively, with Knapp’s knock bringing Reuvekamp around to score.
The Bears got two more runs in the top of the sixth at the expense of reliever Sheldon Lee -- contestant No. 6 on the day for the San Francisco pitching staff. Sophomore third baseman Chris Paul led off with a full-count liner back up the middle for a single, but was erased when freshman designated hitter Nick Halamandaris laid down a very poorly-placed bunt directly back to the mound, allowing Lee to spin and fire to second to cut down Paul. Second baseman Brenden Farney singled hard through the right side – one of a pair of hits in four at-bats for the sophomore infielder – and then redshirt freshman Brian Celsi showed just how this bunting deal is really done, dragging a ball just past the pitching mound, between the bump and the first-base line for an infield single, loading the bases.
Dons skipper Nino Giarratano -- in a rather transparent effort to get his offense going, if umpire Dan Payne’s words were to be believed – argued that Farney – running from first – interfered with second baseman Jason Mahood’s opportunity to field the ball, Giarratano was promptly tossed, leaving San Francisco without its manager.
Next up was true freshman Devin Pearson -- who hit the ball well last weekend down at then-No. 11 UCLA, going 5-for-13 with a run, an RBI and a double -- and despite sitting on an 0-for-2 day, the youngster worked a full-count, bases-loaded walk to push across Cal’s third run.
“It has just worked out big for us, with Derek Campbell going down, we didn’t know what to expect really, because obviously we’ve had a couple freshmen have a tough go of it, and that’s not unusual for a freshman,” Esquer said. “We have some kids who we think are going to be really good players, but it’s been tough for them to start out, but to have Devin be able to start off and start off so solidly, that’s been huge for us, because I don’t know what we’d do if he had met the same fate as some of our other younger guys.”
Lee then uncorked a wild pitch on his first offering to Reuvekamp, bringing Farney around to score.
Despite Muse-Fisher being so dominant in his two frames of work, Esquer decided to get some more pitchers work, and sent Monsour to the mound in the bottom of the sixth. Monsour was rudely greeted with two straight one-out rifle shots off the bats of Mahood and Bradley Zimmer -- the younger brother of first-round draft pick Jordan Zimmer. Zimmer, though, after stroking a first-pitch fastball off the top of the wall in left field, seemingly forgot that, because of the dimensions of his home field, a home run has to clear a 30-foot-high yellow line on the netting protecting the houses across the street, and slowed up rounding first, and instead of two runners in scoring position, San Francisco had just one.
Monsour was quickly lifted for side-arming righty Trevor Hildenberger, who dealt a steady diet of sliders to designated hitter Zachary Turner before fanning him on a full-count challenge fastball at the knees and then inducing a first-pitch duck-snort liner to first baseman Devon Rodriguez to end the threat.
Wark then took center stage, shooting a line-drive one-out single to right in the top of the seventh and coming around to score on a sinking line drive to shallow right center by Farney to make it 4-0, Bears.
The Dons then got fat at the expense of Schulz in his second inning of work, with shortstop Josh Miller leading off with a ringing rounder up the third base line for a stand-up double and Maffei drilling a single through the right side, and taking second on a bad throw by Celsi.
With two men on and no outs, Schulz was lifted for San Francisco native Dylan Nelson, who got Mahood on a soft liner to Rodriguez before surrendering an RBI single to Zimmer for the Dons’ first run of the day. Turner then sent a slow grounder to short to score another run on a fielder’s choice, before Nelson fanned Mitchell Rowan to put out the fire.
Before Nelson could earn his second save of the season, though, Cal tacked on an insurance run in the top of the ninth, again on the back of Wark. The 6-foot-4, 250-pounder dropped a stand-up double up the left field line on the first pitch he saw from reliever Adam Cimber, and came around to score thanks to a passed ball and a sacrifice fly from Halamandaris.
After a leadoff double off the bat of third baseman Bob Cruikshank, Nelson induced a slow bounder up the middle by first baseman Brendan Hendriks, but Farney was right there to make the stab-and-throw in one motion to nail sophomore lefty at first. Nelson then caught pinch hitter Harrison Bruce looking at a called strike three and got a leaping grab from Celsi on a drive to left by Miller to end the game.
Cal next takes the field for the first ever night game at Evans Diamond on Thursday, against former Bears pitching coach and current USC head coach Dan Hubbs and his Trojans, after practicing under the lights on Wednesday night. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“I may have touched one or two of them,” Esquer laughingly said of the eight new light standards erected around the 80-year old field, saying he just needed to make sure they were finally real. “What a sight. It’s a good look, and I’m anxious to see the field at night and see how it plays and what it looks like. I really am expecting standing room only on the first night. I hope there’s standing room only on the second night, too, but at least the first night, I really think a lot of people are going to come out.”
Freshman Ryan Mason (4-0, 2.31 ERA) will take the bump for the first game, followed by senior lefty Justin Jones (1-2, 3.94) at 6 p.m. on Friday. The third game’s starter has yet to be determined.
“I think it was big for all those guys to get back on the mound and have some success, and UCLA was rough for us, and they didn’t get helped by our defense,” Esquer said of his pitching. “We mortgaged a bit on the weekend to get this win, but we felt like getting [Nelson] out there and positive was better than him living with the outing on Sunday.”