BERKELEY -- Fittingly enough, a game that started with a solo home run off the bat of Devin Pearson ended with a fly ball to center, nestling dutifully into the glove of California's true freshman leadoff man, as the Bears clinched a series win over visiting Fresno State, 4-3, on Saturday afternoon.
"It was awesome," said Pearson, who was 6-for-23 coming in to Saturday, but lifted his average over .300 with a 2-for-3 day. "I felt like I was seeing the ball well, but hadn't had anything to show for it. To get that first hit here, and for it to be a home run, it was great."
Thanks to four shutout relief innings from Keaton Siomkin (2.0 IP, 1 H, 5 Ks) and Michael Lowden (2.0 IP, 1 H, 1 K) -- each pitching for the second time in two days -- and two run-scoring sacrifices by Mike Reuvekamp,
"He said he felt better today than he did yesterday, and you listen to him a little bit because we've got to be careful with guys going back-to-back days," head coach David Esquer said of Lowden, who notched his first save of the season, while Siomkin earned his first win. "We're asking a lot of our bullpen. He said he felt better than yesterday, and I listened to him."
"I didn't even talk to Eskie," Lowden said about making his case to pitch on back-to-back days. "Mike [Neu] came over, and said, ‘We're kind of in some rough territory here, and you haven't gone in back-to-back days for a while,' but I said, ‘Yeah, I feel good.' I told him I felt better today than I did yesterday, so he said, ‘Alright, so you can go another if you wanted to?' I said yeah, and he asked if I wanted to, and I said, ‘Yeah.'"
Pearson's third-pitch circuit shot off of a change up from starter Tim Borst was the first collegiate longball for Pearson, who took over for Derek Campbell in center field when the junior was moved to second base last weekend in Houston, just before having his season ended by a broken leg while turning a double play. Pearson also contributed two bunts that keyed the Bears' two big rallies.
"Coach always talks about execution, so I just did my job," Pearson said.
"He had a period of time -- he had the luxury that those other two freshmen [Max Dutto and Mitchell Kranson] didn't have, which was sitting and watching for 10 games," Esquer said of Pearson. "Those guys got thrown right into it, and it beat them up pretty good. They'll come back strong, but he had a chance to get comfortable and he's done a nice job for us, with everything we've asked of him."
BLOW BY BLOW
The round-tripper set the tone for Saturday's affair, which was dominated by a single theme: Whether or not each team could get that shutdown inning.
After the Bears got on the board with Pearson's blast, freshman righty Collin Monsour tossed three shutout innings, allowing just two base runners -- and one hit -- through the fourth inning.
In the top of the fifth, though, Monsour surrendered a flare single to right off the bat of catcher Austin Wynns, and then issued a six-pitch walk to left fielder Taylor Ward, marking the first time that Monsour had allowed the first two batters in an inning to reach.
After missing with a fastball up and in to Brody Russell, Monsour got a tailor-made 6-4-3 double play ball following a quickie mound conference with pitching coach Mike Neu.
Whatever good vibes Monsour got off of that twin killing, though, evaporated with a four-pitch walk to eighth-place hitter Louie Payetta, and Monsour was lifted for senior righty Ryan Wertenberger to face left-handed swinging third baseman Kevin Viers.
On Wertenberger's second offering, Viers yanked an elevated fastball over the glove of a leaping Jacob Wark at the right field wall for a three-run home run.
"We needed to see [Monsour] against a good fastball hitting lineup," Esquer said of his freshman righty, making just his second career start in his fourth collegiate appearance. "It may magnify the need a little bit for his off-speed pitch to be more of a factor, because you can maybe get one time through the lineup with just fastball-only, and an every-now-and-then look-see change up or curveball, but when it comes down to the third time around the lineup, you've got to have a weapon."
Borst, however, could not keep the Bulldogs' momentum rolling in the bottom of the fifth, allowing two straight walks to lead off the inning, bringing Pearson to the plate. The speedy former three-sport star out of Carmel (Calif.) dropped down a sacrifice bunt towards the third base side of the mound. Borst looked to third where he could have easily had a play on Brenden Farney, but as he looked, he lost just enough grip on the ball to double clutch, before spinning to first, just barely getting Pearson and putting two men with scoring position and one out.
Reuvekamp -- who, despite a .196 season average, has scored a team-high eight runs, worked six walks and taken four pitches where it hurts. He's directly contributed to three of the Bears' five ninth-inning-or-later game-winning rallies, and once again, he helped light the spark, sending the first pitch he saw slowly to third, where, instead of playing in, Viers had no choice but to go to first and let the run score, cutting the deficit to one.
"That's the testament that you don't have to be a high-number producer to produce," Esquer said. "He's doing it with the glove and he's helping us do the little things, getting on base. He won't move out of the way of an inside fastball. That's big for us. That'll intimidate some teams on the inner half. He's done a nice job of getting on base."
With the swirling winds over Evans had been playing tricks with pop flies all afternoon, slugger Devon Rodriguez lofted a slicing fly ball to left on a 2-2 offering from Borst to shallow left. Ward -- a freshman and the heir-apparent to Wynns behind the dish, and not a natural left fielder – misjudged the changing trajectory of the ball and was late to break inward. By the time he got to the ball, he had to attempt a shoestring catch – the key word being attempt. The ball fell to the turf, allowing speedy Brian Celsi to score, tying the game at 3-3.
"I thought for sure it was going to fall," said Pearson. "Evans Diamond, it's hard to play the outfield in, but we get a lot of good practice."
Siomkin then came on and kept the momentum rolling, striking out two and allowing a walk to Wynns in the top of the sixth, striking out Ward on a swing-and-miss slider in the dirt away to retire the side.
"The luxury our guys will face this year is that we'll recycle guys over and over," said Esquer, who picked Siomkin back up off the floor after a rough outing in Irvine on Feb. 24, when he gave up two runs on three hits on one-third of an inning. Since then, Siomkin has thrown 6.1 innings, allowing three hits and one walk while striking out seven. "We don't have the luxury to move them down below and just sit on them. Guys will get a chance, they'll fail and they'll get another chance. He came back strong this time."
Farney led off the bottom of the seventh with a single back up the middle, and was promptly followed by a bunt from Celsi, which was misplayed by fireballing reliever -- and former weekend starter -- Tyler Linehan. Linehan threw wide to first, pulling Brink off the bag, and putting two men on with no outs.
On the second pitch he saw from Linehan, Pearson popped a chip-shot bunt up the third base line, just far enough away from the mound so that it couldn't be caught, but not too far so that Viers could charge in and make a diving effort. The ball hit just fair, and as it began to roll towards the line, Linehan over-ran it, brushing the top of the ball with his glove. With the bases loaded and the infield in, Reuvekamp drove a deep fly ball to right center field, pushing across the eventual winning run.
Clutch defense by Fresno State prevented a bigger inning, as shortstop Chris Mariscal made a sliding stop deep in the hole to keep an 0-1 sharply-hit grounder to the left side by Rodriguez on the infield.
Junior catcher Andrew Knapp -- who had a sure-bet home run to center field stolen by big-hitting center field pro prospect Aaron Judge in the bottom of the fourth -- was again stymied by the 6-foot-7 Bulldogs star, who caught Knapp's 0-1 fly ball to center and fired home to cut down Celsi at the plate and end the inning.
Lowden then came on for the second time in two days, getting Fresno State in order in the top of the eighth with just eight pitches. On Friday Lowden depended mostly on his fastball, but on Saturday, he turned mainly to his off-speed stuff.
"I've been throwing a lot of sliders, last year and this year, but I've started going to my fastball more, which is obviously making my slider better," Lowden said. "It keeps them off-balance, but I'm trying to get ahead with the fastball more, which helps."
Lowden then closed things out with an 11-pitch ninth, with Payetta flying out lazily to Pearson in center.
Cal will start sophomore JuCo transfer Dylan Nelson on Sunday in the series finale, set for a 1 p.m. first pitch.
Faces in the Crowd
Austin Booker -- 31st-round pick of the Oakland Athletics in 2011 and a member of Cal's College World Series team that season -- was in the house, as were 2013 signees Aaron Knapp and Trevin Haseltine. Haseltine fanned 10 hitters on Friday night, and marveled at the progress that's been made on the light stanchions around Evans Diamond, which will see their first action on March 28 against USC.
Pearson Powers Series-Clincher
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