Stanford, Calif. -- In a year, the California baseball team may be mature enough to win games like the one it dropped, 4-3, to rival Stanford on Monday night, but as of now, said head coach David Esquer, they just aren't mature enough.
"It is that inexperience factor," Esquer said. "We didn't play old, obviously because we're not old, and yet, this was a very winnable game. You hold Stanford to two hits, you want to take that one home."
After jumping ahead 1-0 on sophomore Chris Paul's third home run in two games, the Bears (16-13) could not hold on against the No. 25 Cardinal at Sunken Diamond, despite out-hitting Stanford (14-9) by the count of 8-2, mainly because of a failure to execute in the big spots.
Cal left a staggering 12 runners on base and wasted solid relief efforts from Ryan Wertenberger (2.0 IP, 1 R, BB, 2 K), Logan Scott (2.0 IP, 1 BB, 5 K) and Trevor Hildenberger (1.0 IP, 1 K).
Of the dozen runners the Bears stranded, seven were left in scoring position, two of those in the top of the third, when Cal loaded the bases with two outs, thanks to a Mike Reuvekamp single to center, a walk to Devon Rodriguez and an errant first pitch to Andrew Knapp that hit the Bears catcher in the right elbow, but with a chance to break the game open, right fielder Jacob Wark swung at the first pitch and flied out weakly to left.
Rodriguez went 1-for-4 with a run, and is after starting the weekend series against USC 1-for-11, has gone 3-for-6.
In the bottom of the third, with Cal up 1-0 on Paul's solo shot, starter Chris Muse-Fisher struck out freshman shortstop Drew Jackson swinging on a 1-2 breaking ball down and in. With Knapp unable to hold on to the ball in the dirt, Jackson sprinted to first, but as he exited the box, his foot came into contact with the ball, but no interference was called.
Junior first baseman Brian Ragira -- the only veteran hitter left after Stanford lost five players last season and slugger Austin Wilson to an injured elbow earlier this season -- then flew out to right on a 1-0 offering, which, had Jackson been erased properly, would have ended the inning.
Muse-Fisher then dealt a five-pitch walk to Danny Diekroeger, and after a mound visit by pitching coach Mike Neu, promptly gave up a first-pitch blast to sophomore right fielder Austin Slater -- just the eighth home run the Cardinal have tallied this season.
"The call is that with unintentional contact, you can't call the guy out or kill the play," Esquer said. "It hit the bat first and then unintentionally hit the runner, so he had to call unintentional, and that's unfortunate. We had to get four outs that inning, and the guy hits the three-run homer before we get that fourth out."
After stranding designated hitter Grant Diede at second with a two-out double in the top of the fourth, Wertenberger allowed a run on no hits in the bottom of the frame, thanks to a leadoff walk to Alex Blandino, a sacrifice bunt by catcher Wayne Taylor and a sacrifice fly by designated hitter Dominic Jose.
An infield bunt single by freshman Devin Pearson (the only Bear to record more than one hit, going 2-for-4) and two wild pitches in the top of the fifth cut the lead to 4-2, but with a man at first and one out, Wark tapped a one-hopper to Ragira at first to start a 3-6 double play to end the threat. Had Knapp -- who was no longer forced to go to second after Wark was erased -- gotten into a rundown, Reuvekamp had a chance to at least force a throw to the plate and perhaps score.
"They scored two of their four runs on walks," Esquer said. "We didn't handle the groundball double play. If we stop and get into a rundown, we score and it would be a tie."
A Knapp RBI single down the left field line in the top of the seventh cashed in Reuvekamp -- aboard on a low throw up the first base line by Jackson -- but with no outs and a man on, Wark fanned on a fastball on the outside corner by reliever Sam Lindquist and Paul went down swinging on three pitches.
Knapp -- who is hitting .400 in conference play with three doubles, two home runs and eight RBI -- went 1-for-4 with an RBI, but left three men on base, as did Farney, who went 1-for-3 with a run, a walk and a strikeout.
Reuvekamp reached twice on two of Stanford's three errors, while Pearson reached in the eighth on a throw by replacement shortstop Lonnie Kauppila, putting runners on the corners with two outs in the top of the eighth, but only once did Cal capitalize on the Cardinal miscues.
"My hope is that, in the future, there are enough things to go around, as far as learning, that the same circumstances -- this same game -- could be played two, three, four weeks from now, and we would end up winning this game," Esquer said. "It's hard to learn on the job, but that's exactly what we have to do. We have to hope that we play this game and the same things happen, we win this game two or three weeks from now."
Lost in the shuffle was a sparkling two-inning outing by fifth-year senior Scott, who lowered his ERA to a staff-leading 1.64, and upping his strikeouts-per-nine-innings to 9.0 thanks to a resurgent change up.
"I'm still challenging him to make sure that he's on top of all his pitches, and I thought his change up was even better tonight than it had been, in a long time," Esquer said. "That's a challenge I gave to him. That's been a dominant pitch for him in the past, and I think that's something I'm looking forward to coming back and being an extra-special pitch. Tonight, it was very good."
The Bears next head to the desert for a three-game set with reigning national champion Arizona, which ranks No. 29 in the National College Baseball Writers poll, No. 24 in Baseball America and No. 23 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
The Wildcats (18-11, 3-6 in the Pac-12) rank first in the conference in on-base percentage (.408), runs (199), triples (22), walks taken (130) and stolen bases (63), and are sixth in the league in ERA (3.57) and second in batting average (.308), with a conference sweep against Utah. Arizona has been swept twice this year in Pac-12 play, falling at the hands of No. 6 Oregon State at home and No. 5 Oregon on the road.
Bears Strand 12 in 4-3 Loss to Cardinal
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