SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The California baseball team won its fifth straight game and sixth in its last seven on Tuesday night, felling Santa Clara -- the top offensive team in the West Coast Conference -- 3-1, with the big blow coming on a fourth-inning two-run double down the left field line by redshirt freshman Brian Celsi.
"This was expected," said head coach David Esquer. "3-1 in a tough, grind-it-out ballgame, I don't feel ashamed to win that way, because I think that's what a lot of our wins are going to be like."
The Bears (10-7) got a mixed bag from lefty starter Michael Theofanopoulos, who gave up two hits and one run in 3.2 innings and struck out four, while also walking five and uncorking three wild pitches as he works to get back into the weekend rotation.
"Just OK, just OK," Esquer said of Theofanopoulos's outing. "He competed and he was out there a little bit. He was a little limited in what his pitch selection could be, I thought, and he's a work-in-progress. It's just about comfort. When he gets comfortable throwing like he throws, we'll have our Friday starter back."
Theofanopoulos didn't show much command of his fastball, but was able to get his curve to drop in for strikes for the majority of his outing.
"That was his go-to pitch, and to be honest, if you're going to have one of the two, that's the one I want," Esquer said.
Cal did get stellar relief once again, as four pitchers tossed a combined 5.1 scoreless, highlighted by a bounce-back outing from sophomore Chris Muse-Fisher. The Bears' 2012 Freshman of the Year had struggled with back stiffness, allowing seven earned runs over 2.0 innings over his last three outings for a 31.50 ERA, but on Tuesday, the soft-tossing lefty threw 2.0 innings with three strikeouts, one hit and no walks.
"We hadn't seen that all year," Esquer said. "That's kind of how we expected him to pitch coming into the season, and it's big, just to add another arm to our bullpen so he can go the distance. When we get that starting pitching figured out, and they can go five, six or seven innings, who knows, maybe we'll be able to have a pen where we just want six [out of the starters] so we can have the seventh, eighth and ninth covered."
Junior righty Michael Lowden -- pitching for the third time in four games – closed things out in the ninth for his second save in as many outings.
"Our bullpen's done a good job, and we even asked some guys to pitch, who haven't pitched in a while, and I think we're playing better defense," Esquer said. "I think that's the best defensive personnel we've had out there, and we've just got to try and stay healthy."
The Broncos (8-9) -- who came in with a WCC-leading .295 team batting average and 93 runs scored -- managed just five hits against Bears pitchers, and were felled by several base-running gaffes, which prompted head coach Dan O'Brien to hold a 30-minute team meeting in right field after the final out.
After a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the first by designated hitter Peter Summerville plated shortstop Justin Viele -- aboard with a leadoff walk -- Santa Clara threatened once again in the bottom of the second.
With one out, second baseman Kyle DeMerritt sent a line drive off of Theofanopoulos's left ankle, and second baseman Brenden Farney, breaking up the middle to head off the drive, could not change direction fast enough, and the glancing drive fell untouched, allowing DeMerritt to reach first.
Theofanopoulos then fanned catcher Zach Looney, before delivering two wild pitches to Viele en route to a five-pitch walk, putting men at the corners with two outs.
With Drew Ozanne -- hitting .325 -- at the dish, Theofanopoulos buried a first-pitch curve in the dirt. Preseason All-American Andrew Knapp recovered and fired to shortstop Mike Reuvekamp at second, catching Viele in a rundown. Instead of occupying Reuvekamp, though, Viele stopped dead in his tracks, and the junior shortstop – keeping his eyes on DeMerritt at third – fired home to cut down the junior infielder at the plate.
"I think our infield has been playing pretty solidly as of late, and that's been helping our pitching staff do a better job," said Esquer, who had Devon Rodriguez back at first base for the second straight game. "Just the calming effect of how he catches and receives the ball at first base, there's a calming effect to that, that we haven't had in a long time. That's a big deal, and that's not to be understated."
Unable to press the advantage, Santa Clara starter Reece Karalas got into trouble in the top of the fourth, walking Knapp to lead off the frame. After striking out right fielder Jacob Wark, Karalas's 0-2 fastball to Chris Paul ran up and in to the sophomore third baseman, hitting him on the wrist.
Theofanopoulos – serving as both pitcher and DH – then sent a weak grounder off the hands to second, scoring Knapp to tie things up at 1-1. Farney then came up with a high chopper over the bag at second for his seventh hit in his last 14 at-bats, setting the stage for Celsi.
The left-handed hitting slapper sent an 0-1 pitch from Karalas slicing towards the left field line. Takahashi looked to have a bead on the ball, but it kept dropping and landed just fair, allowing two more runs to score on Celsi's first career extra-base hit.
"Oh, I thought it was going to get caught," Celsi smiled. "Hey, it worked out, so I'm happy."
Celsi went 2-for-4 on the day and is now 3-for-7 over the past two games with two runs, a walk, a HBP and two RBI, and during the opening series against Michigan, Celsi was instrumental in two of Cal's three walk-off wins.
"In a positive way, I'm a pest," said Celsi, who also had an eight-pitch at-bat in the top of the second to elevate Karalas's pitch count, which included four straight foul balls. "I like it. I think pitchers take advantage of me being in the nine-hole, and I punch them right in the face."
Celsi did take a pitch off of his finger on a bunt attempt in his last at-bat, though, which concerned Esquer. If Celsi can't go this weekend against Utah in the Bears' Pac-12 opening series, freshman Max Dutto could see action in left.
"That could be his opportunity to get back in the lineup," Esquer said. "It may help him, being a little more relaxed."
With one man on and one out in the bottom of the fourth and DeMerritt at the plate, Theofanopoulos uncorked his third wild pitch of the evening, putting Takahashi in scoring position. Takahashi walked his lead out and started leaning, without a look from Theofanopoulos, but as he broke for third, the junior lefty fired to Paul. Paul then threw to Farney, who made a diving tag to erase the senior outfielder.
Senior righty Ryan Wertenberger then induced a groundout from DeMerritt to end the frame.
Knapp then notched his second caught-stealing of the day in the bottom of the fifth, erasing Looney at second.
Knapp -- not previously known for his defense -- has now thrown out six of 16 would-be base stealers on the season.
"The reality is, we knew coming into the season that he's not a finished product, and there's probably a little pressure for people to want him to be a finished product from Day One, and he's not," Esquer said. "I think he has really improved in the game. I think he's receiving better now than he did a week ago. I think he's throwing better than he did a week ago, and we knew that had to happen, and he's doing it."
Muse-Fisher then came on to retire the Broncos in order in the bottom of the sixth on just eight pitches, and then ground through a 22-pitch seventh, striking Looney out swinging to end his evening.
Senior lefty Justin Jones then came on for an inning of work in the bottom of the eighth, pitching on the Stephen Schott Stadium mound for the first time since his virtuoso six-inning, one-hit performance against Dallas Baptist in the first game of the 2011 Super Regional which eventually sent the Bears to Omaha.
"He went Thursday and he's going to go Saturday [against Utah], so the time between, we had the luxury of being able to get an extra inning out of him," Esquer said of Jones's 16-pitch outing. "I wanted to get him a little experience towards the end of the game. He hasn't been there before. He hasn't touched the eighth inning yet, so I'm hoping that, in a tight game, eighth inning, close to the end, it'll give him a little comfort level there."
Lowden then took the bump in the bottom of the ninth and, after getting a little help from Paul on a diving grab at third on a rocket from Summerville and allowing a line-drive single to center to first baseman T.J. Braff, got Takahashi to pop out and caught DeMerritt swinging on a low slider to close things out.
Bears Win Fifth Straight
BearTerritory.net Top Stories
BTTV: Practice UpdateUpdates on Cal practice from Memorial Stadium as Vic Wharton returns.
Go Premium With BearTerritoryMany visitors are surprised with just how much they get with a BearTerritory.net subscription. Here's the low-down...
Dykes: We Wore DownBERKELEY -- Cal head Coach Sonny Dykes says the Bears wore down in the second half against Arizona State.
By the Numbers: Cal vs. UtahHow do Cal and Utah match up against one another according to the numbers? We take a deep dive.