UPDATED 8:00 PM: Quotes from head coach David Esquer, corrected Ryan Mason in on-deck circle to Max Dutto, added note on injury to Mike Reuvekamp.
14 innings, nearly four and a half hours, eight California pitchers and all Sunday’s series finale came down to was one single pitch.
With the Bears and host Washington tied 5-5, two outs and two on in the top of the 14th inning, true freshman righty Max Dutto took a bat and began to warm up on deck, in case the Huskies decided to put in a lefty before head coach David Esquer announced his lineup change. It was getting to be too late, and the bench had become just too short, with both Devon Rodriguez and Nick Halamandaris -- a combined 1-for-8 -- both done for the day.
But, instead, after a bit of gamesmanship while Huskies junior Zach Wright dealt an intentional walk to center fielder Devin Pearson to load the bases, Esquer sent out the originally appointed hitter -- John Soteropulos -- for just his fourth at-bat of his freshman season.
Soteropulos didn’t have to wait long to become the unlikely hero, as Wright fired his first pitch to the freshman out of Palos Verdes, Calif., outside, and between the legs of catcher Parker Guinn -- who entered the game in the 10th for starter Ryan Wiggins.
The ball skipped all the way to the backstop, allowing Brenden Farney -- aboard on a one-out single to left -- to come home for the winning run, as Cal took its second straight Pac-12 series with the 6-5 win. Farney finished the day 2-for-6 with two runs, as one of four Bears hitters to record multi-hit days.
"Aw, shoot, we needed a break like that," Esquer said. "I don't think anybody was going to end up with a cheap win. It was going to have to be a break ... [Farney] has struck the ball well -- better than the results. Today, he hit a couple hard balls for outs. We were just really offensive, with the cold, the wind and the turf is slow, so the hits were hard to come by. He struck the ball well; better than the numbers."
The win allowed Cal (20-23, 9-12 in the Pac-12) to pay Washington back in kind for a 3-2 loss suffered after a 12-inning marathon on Friday night, where Ryan Mason tossed 8.2 innings, allowing just one run in getting the no-decision.
"It was bittersweet, letting one get away from us on Friday with a lead in the 12th, and you're that close from really a big, big weekend," Esquer said. "That was a quality Friday-night start. That was a 'Friday night, in the Pac-12,' start. He gave us a chance to win. We just didn't cash in any opportunities and we didn't hold the lead in the 12th."
In contrast, Cal starter Dylan Nelson went just 1.1 innings on Sunday, allowing five runs -- all earned -- on five hits with just one strikeout.
Blow by Blow
The Huskies (14-28, 6-12) scored all of their runs in the bottom of the second, with the first two hitters reaching base on balls that glanced off of the gloves of two separate Bears defenders. Michael Camporeale doubled off of the outstretched mitt of right fielder Jacob Wark in right center, and was driven in on an RBI single off the bat of junior first baseman Brian Wolfe, which nearly took the glove off of a diving Halamandaris at first before skipping into the outfield.
After an alert play by sophomore shortstop Chris Paul on a grounder up the middle -- gloving the ball behind the bag and flipping backwards to Farney covering second -- Nelson then hit Joe Meggs in the head on a 1-2 pitch. After getting ahead of Braden Bishop 0-2 Nelson surrendered a tapper to the left side for an infield single to load the bases.
Shortstop Ty Afenir then sent a groundball single through the left side to make the score 2-0, with the bases still juiced. Out went Nelson, and in came senior righty Ryan Wertenberger, who gave up a bases-clearing triple down the right field line to senior right fielder Jayce Ray, putting Washington up, 5-0.
But, the Bears clawed back, little by little.
Paul reached base to lead off the top of the third on an error by Afenir, and when speedy freshman left fielder Brian Celsi tried to sacrifice him over to second, Cal got a bit of a gift. The bunt came to a halt just in front of the dirt at home, but pitcher Tyler Kane -- making just his second career start – couldn’t get a handle on the ball and threw it straight into the ground, putting two men on with no outs.
A sacrifice bunt by Farney moved both men into scoring position for Knapp. The junior backstop -- just one RBI behind Rodriguez for the team lead -- fell behind 1-2, before rocketing a two-run single back up the middle to get the Bears on the board.
Knapp led Cal with a 3-for-6, three-RBI day at the dish, making out in his first three at-bats.
In the top of the fourth, Paul -- playing at short for the first time since March 2 for the injured Mike Reuvekamp -- was the next Bear to come up big. Following a one-out Mitchell Kranson double to right in the top of the fourth, and a groundout to second by right fielder Jacob Wark, the sophomore infielder out of Laguna Beach, Calif., crushed his sixth home run of the season over the left field wall to get the Bears to within one.
Kranson, it should be noted, went 2-for-5 for the second straight day, and is now 7-for-21 with four RBIs and three runs scored over the past five games, lifting his average from .186 to .234. In fact, nearly half of his hits on the season (7 of 15) have come over his past five games.
"We're trying to find some guys who are going to break through and get to the other side and maybe help us be the program we need to be against this type of competition," Esquer said. "You're hoping that some of that show you that now. A kid like Pearson has already shown that he's going to be there for us when it's time to make a move and be the program we want to be. We have to add to guys like him."
After getting the first two outs in the bottom of the fourth before walking Afenir, Wertenberger was pulled for junior lefty Kyle Porter, who induced a grounder to second by Ray to end the inning.
Cal tied things up in the top of the fifth thanks to back-to-back doubles from Farney and Knapp with two outs. Farney finished the day 2-for-6 with two runs scored.
Then, the two teams settled in to a game of trench warfare, with neither side scoring again for the next eight innings.
The Bears threatened in the top of the eighth, putting men at the corners with one out. But Kranson sent a comebacker to the mound, where reliever Trevor Dunlap alertly threw home to erase pinch runner Sean Peters.
After a single by Wark loaded the bases, Paul grounded out weakly to first to end what had been – up to that point – Cal’s best chance to break the game open.
As the innings and hours ticked by, the Bears cobbled together several solid relief outings, getting two innings from righty Logan Scott, a 1-2-3 inning from senior lefty Justin Jones in the seventh and 4.1 gutty innings from sophomore righty Keaon Siomkin, who struck out three, but walked two and allowed six hits. Siomkin surrendered back-to-back one-out singles to Guinn and Meggs in the bottom of the 12th, before being lifted for sophomore Eric Walbridge. In just his sixth appearance of the year, Walbridge came up clutch, striking out Bishop and getting Afenir to fly out to left to end the threat.
Reliever Collin Monsour came on in the bottom of the 13th, and immediately got a lift from his defense, as Kranson made a diving, tumbling stop on a grounder to the left side by Ray, and fired to first for the out. The freshman righty then walked Ely on five pitches, before the dangerous Trevor Mitsui parachuted a dying quail into shallow right, just in front of a sliding Wark, for a single. Up stepped Camporeale, carrying a 1-for-6 collar on the day, but hitting .288 on the season with a .462 slugging percentage.
On Monsour’s fourth pitch, Camporeale sent a tough grounder to the left side, where Kranson was able to gobble it up and throw to second, where Farney – avoiding a hard-sliding Mitsui – made the turn and threw to a stretching Soteropulos at first, who just managed to keep a toe on the bag to complete the inning-ending double play.
"We had two plays at first base -- a tag play at first that, if they called safe, the game is over, because the guy rounding second is going to score -- and we had a groundball -- the double play ball -- that Soteropulos just stretched for it and barely hung on to the bag," Esquer said. "If they call safe at first, the game's going to be over, because the guy's rounding third and would have scored."
In the top of the 14th, Farney checked in with a first-pitch, one-out single to left, taking second when Knapp worked a six-pitch walk. Grant Diede -- who came in for Rodriguez at DH in the 10th – sent a tapper to the mound to move both runners into scoring position. After four wide to Pearson, Wright threw the decisive wild pitch to score Farney for the winning run, before getting Soteropulos to ground out to short.
Monsour then allowed just a one-out single to Guinn (who went 3-for-3) before getting Meggs to fly out to left and then handling the final out himself on a first-pitch soft liner back to the mound by Bishop.
Junior Mike Reuvekamp did not play after getting two hits on Saturday, after breaking a finger during the second game of the series while sliding headfirst. Instead, Paul was inserted at shortstop -- where he started the season and played 10 games before Derek Campbell went down with a season-ending broken leg. For the second straight game, Pearson hit fifth instead of leadoff. Instead, the speedy, slap-hitting Celsi kicked things off (Reuvekamp led off on Saturday). The redshirt freshman left fielder went 2-for-7 with a run.
"We may have to live that way for a while," Esquer said. "Luck hasn't been on our side. We'll find out tomorrow [about Reuvekamp]; We'll go to the doctor and see. He was in a lot of pain today, so it doesn't look good."
The first three hitters -- Celsi, Farney and Knapp -- combined to go 7-for-19 on Sunday.
This was the second series on the year in which the Bears have gone into extra innings twice, with the first being the season-opening sweep of Michigan at Evans Diamond, which saw Cal win all three games in its final at-bat.
The Bears have now won four of their last seven games after an eight-game losing streak from April 5 -16.
With two conference series wins, the past two weekends mark the first time this season that Cal has taken two straight series. The last time that happened, though, was when the Bears took four from Fresno State in Berkeley and then went on the road to sweep Utah as part of an eight-game winning streak from March 7-17.
The last time Cal took back-to-back Pac-12 series was last season, when the Bears took two of three from the Huskies and then all three from the Utes from April 13-22.
Cal returns to the Bay Area on Tuesday for a 5 p.m. tilt in Stockton, Calif., against Pacific, which fell on Sunday to Cal State Northridge, 8-7, in 11 innings, using five different pitchers. The Tigers are now 10-28 overall.
"It makes things even more interesting," Esquer said of determining a starter after having used so many pitchers himself on Sunday. "There are going to be a couple guys -- the [Jake] Schulz's, Porter can still pitch some innings and -- Who else? Shoot. Michael Jordan, maybe. Some guys are going to have to pitch."
Following that game, the Bears will play 10 straight games against ranked opponents. Cal’s final Pac-12 road series of the year takes place May 3-5 against No. 6 Oregon State, before the Bears return home for three-game sets against No. 8 Arizona State and No. 14 Stanford, and finish the season with one game against No. 22 Gonzaga.
"The goal of our team is that those are the teams you've got to beat eventually, so we have them all lined up in a row -- that's why our guys came to play in this conference: To play against those types of people," Esquer said. "We've got to be able to do that."