BSB: Mason Licks Huskies
BERKELEY -- California salvaged the finale of its three-game set against Washington on Sunday, riding a 7.0-inning, four-hit outing from sophomore righty Ryan Mason to a 7-1 win over the No. 6 Huskies.
"It's awesome. It's something we really needed," said freshman outfielder Aaron Knapp, who started three games in a row for the first time in his career and went 3-for-5 in Saturday's win. "We've been battling. We've been playing tough, but we haven't been able to get over the hump. Hopefully this sets us up to get more than one each weekend from here on out."
For the second game in a row, the Bears (16-19, 5-10 in Pac-12) notched double-digit hits, led by three apiece from catcher Mitchell Kranson and Knapp, who's 3-for-5 day in the series finale capped off a 6-for-13 series.
Jeff Brigham. "He started away, did the same sequence every time, started away and tried to throw one front-foot, and they just came right on the barrel."
Kranson went 4-for-8 on the weekend with one RBI and one walk and no strikeouts.
"He's been up and down in a tough year for Kranny, and last year he finished strong and we were hoping he'd do the same this year, so that's what we need to happen," head coach David Esquer said.
Every Cal starter reached base safely at least once, as the Bears posted 11 hits and five walks behind Mason, who scattered five hits over his season-high 7.0 innings of work, walking one and striking out two on 91 pitches.
"Best I've seen him," Esquer said. "Best I've seen him. I saw him in the first inning, and I knew, really, I said, ‘Hey, this is the best I've seen,' and it's been visual for me. I felt like I could tell by the way it looked, whether he had it in him. It was obvious today. His ball was coming out of his hand, his arm slot was up and high and the ball was sinking for him. He hadn't had that. He'd been flat and slinging the ball and fighting his body, and that was encouraging to see him pitch that well."
Mason had been fighting back soreness related to his January MCL sprain, but finally felt well enough on Saturday to stand tall in the series finale against one of the hottest teams in the country.
"It's just good to finally start healing my body a little bit from injury, and get back into the swing of things as a starter again," Mason said. "The pain in the back actually went down my leg. The fact that it felt better today was just a testament to our training staff and how everything's been going around here. [The knee] set me back. I had to be in a brace, couldn't pitch, couldn't throw a pen. It definitely set me back, and that's why I ended up in the bullpen at the start of the year."
The Bears chased Brigham early, rattling off five runs on eight hits and two walks in 4.1 innings off of the 6-foot, 183-pound junior, who came in with a 4-1 record and a 2.12 ERA.
Brigham had a particularly difficult time handling Knapp, who went 3-for-3 off of the hard-throwing righty, who sat in the mid-90s.
"I said all along, we put those three freshmen in, and they're exciting to watch," Esquer said of Knapp, Robbie Tenerowicz and Lucas Erceg. "They're not always successful, but when Erceg, Tenerowicz and Knapp come up to the plate, it catches your attention. You're waiting for something to happen. Aaron played a great ballgame. That guy is going to be a first-round draft pick. They said he throws up to 95, 96 mph. He turned him around three consecutive times."
Mason moved to 3-0 on the year, lowering his season ERA from 2.62 to 2.32.
"That was the best he's thrown all year," said pitching coach Mike Neu. "He's had a little back problem that he's been dealing with, and his arm has been up and down, but we've been looking at some film to try and get him right and get him healthy, and he obviously looked good. That was the best he's pitched since his freshman year. He had good sink and good command, and when he's good, he throws a lot of strikes. I think that was the biggest thing, is he was really able to pound the zone with his sinker and throw off that with his change up and breaking ball."
BLOW BY BLOW
Cal got off to a fast start, hoisting up a three spot in the bottom of the first. Following a six-pitch walk to Nick Halamandaris, Brigham gave up a first-pitch laced double down the left field line by Erceg and then a first-pitch single through the right side by redshirt sophomore Brian Celsi, bringing home both Halamandaris and Erceg.
After a hopper over the mound by Tenerowicz moved Celsi to third, Kranson delivered a flare single to center to plate the speedy Celsi.
Meanwhile, Mason retired nine straight Huskies after a second-inning single by slugger Brian Wolfe, needing just 40 pitches to get through the first four innings.
"I think location of the fastball, which I haven't had too much this year, and getting in the swing of starting again is starting to pay off," Mason said. "I'm getting my command back, which was the ultimate success on the day. I threw mostly fastball-change up, and threw a couple sliders in there just to show it off a little bit. The change up, I could locate pretty well today and it was my out pitch."
With one down in the top of the fifth, Mason surrendered a line-drive single just to the left of the second base bag by Trevor Mitsui to break the spell. After getting ahead of Alex Schmidt 1-2 with two filthy change ups called for strikes, Mason tried to stay away from Schmidt to play in to the defense, which was playing Schmidt to go the opposite way.
With the outfield shifted towards the left side, Mason's fastball leaked out over the plate and Schmidt sent a high fly ball double into the right field corner, with Celsi giving chase. With one out and men on second and third, though, Mason clutched up, getting ahead 1-2 staying low in the zone before going upstairs with the heater to get a swing-and-miss from catcher Austin Rei.
"The plan was to strike the first guy out in that scenario," said Mason. "You have to get him out some way, and I don't want him to get the ball out of the infield, because then the run would score. The plan was strike the kid out, it happened, and the next guy, it was just to get in on his hands and try to get weak contact and get the third one, and it worked out that way."
It took just one pitch to get left fielder Jack Meggs to send a bad-hop grounder to first, where Nick Halamandaris corralled the spinning shot and touched first to end the threat.
"He wasn't really in the stretch much the first three or four innings, so that was my concern," Neu said. "Is he going to be OK in the stretch and still make his pitches? He did that. He battled. They'd been getting two-out hits off us all weekend, and that's kind of broke our back, because I think we've actually pitched pretty well this weekend, but they've had some two-out clutch hits at the right time and that was tough. But, he was able to do that a couple times and shut them down. They still scored one run on a two-out hit today, but he had a couple big pitches."
Kranson led off the bottom half of the frame with a hard groundball single up the middle, and with one out, Knapp nearly took Brigham's head off with a hot shot back up the middle. Redshirt junior Derek Campbell -- who played a virtuoso shortstop on Saturday – then deposited a two-run double into the left field corner to stake Mason to a 5-0 lead.
"He really played a nice game, defensively," Esquer said of Campbell. "That was probably his best game at shortstop ever. He's played OK, but that was a really solid game of shortstop."
Mason finally got a little loose in the top of the sixth, allowing a one-out double to right center by center fielder Braden Bishop and then a two-out RBI single up the middle by designated hitter Robert Pehl.
Cal answered right back in the bottom of the sixth, when with two outs, Tenerowicz waved wildly at the first two pitches from reliever Will Ballowe, but worked the count full before taking a dose in his left hip.
"He's very reminiscent of Chad Bunting," Esquer said of Tenerowicz's aggressiveness early in the count. "Right now, you're just hoping he gets on one of those Chad Bunting streaks, where he just hits everything. He's a work in progress, but he draws a lot of attention from the other team and he hasn't hit yet. He draws a lot of walks because they're dancing around the zone a little bit because of the swing he puts on it. He's dangerous. He's going to figure it out, and usually dangerous guys like that, it's just a strikeout, but he's a walk, and when he gets comfortable in the box, I'm excited to see what can happen."
Kranson and Tenerowicz then executed a perfect hit-and-run as the stocky backstop ripped a single into right center, putting men at the corners and spelling the end for Ballowe.
Brandon Choate entered the game and, on his third pitch to Devin Pearson, crossed signs with catcher Rei, as Tenerowicz turned his secondary lead into a dead sprint when he saw that Rei was expecting an off speed pitch, but instead got a fastball that sailed over his glove and to the backstop for a passed ball. Tenerowicz flopped into the dirt and came sprawling across the plate to put Cal up, 6-1.
Finally, it was the Big Cat's turn to do some damage in the bottom of the seventh, as fifth-year senior slugger Devon Rodriguez delivered a monster solo home run on a 3-1 fastball middle-in, sending the itinerant cowhide off the Washington flag atop the Edwards Track Stadium grandstand for his second home run in as many weekends, and his third of the season.
"It felt good," Rodriguez said. "I'm just glad to get a win, to be quite honest with you. That made it a little sweeter. It was a huge win today. We've been struggling, but we've been playing really well, and we're knocking at the door. I think we're going to start getting hot soon, because we're playing well. Ever since Sunday at Washington State, we've been a different team. The wins and losses haven't really showed, but I think we're going to get hot at the right time."
Freshman righty Alex Martinez tossed a quick seventh, running his fastball up as high as 94 mph, and senior side-armer Trevor Hildenberger threw a scoreless ninth, finishing the game with an emphatic swinging strikeout at the expense of pinch hitter Matt Jackson.
Martinez will take the bump on Tuesday when the Bears travel to Fresno State for a midweek affair against the 19-21 Bulldogs, who are coming off of a 9-8 loss to Nevada.
"I think we're going to bring Martinez back," Neu said. "His velocity has been really good the last three or four times out. He's been up to 94. He just has to command his fastball, and if he can do that, he overmatched a couple of their guys, which was really good to see. I think he's got a ton of potential, if he can just have a little bit better command. He's got a chance to dominate some lineups. Hopefully, we can get him on track. His arm strength is good. His change up and breaking ball are good pitches. It was encouraging."
BearTerritory.net Recommended Stories
THREE AND OUT: Rigsbee Goes Duck Hunting
BERKELEY -- Jordan Rigsbee talks about his fowl exploits in the South Bay, and previews just what he and the offensive line need to do to get back to running the ball effectively against the No. 6…Read More
HOOPS PREVIEW Tyrone Wallace Adds Versatility
BERKELEY -- The latest in our series of comprehensive Cal basketball previews focuses on long, versatile and athletic guard Tyrone Wallace, as we take a look at more film from practice.Read More
Pac-12 Hoops Media Day Notebook
SAN FRANCISCO -- Some quick hit comments from Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott on the state of the Pac-12 and some new initiatives that are coming this men's basketball season, including an update on…Read More
Week 8: Super Sleepers
Every week, Fantasy Football Expert Jeb Gorham digs in his list of rankings to find the best sleepers for deeper formats. Consider giving these players a chance, but be aware of the risk! Tampa Bay…Read More
Watch: Sailfish Goes Psycho!
Check out this classic video of Dan Larson battling an acrobatic sailfish on a trip to the world-famous Tropic Star Lodge in Panama.Read More