Big Cat Nets Esquer's 400th Win

A two-run double by Brenden Farney and a two-run home run by Devon Rodriguez fuel a 4-2 Cal win over Washington State, as the Bears snap an eight-game losing streak with David Esquer's 400th win as Cal skipper -- the program's first under its home lights.

BERKELEY -- Eight-game losing streak broken? Check. First-ever home win under the lights? Check. A Devon Rodriguez home run? Check. David Esquer's 400th win as the California baseball head coach? Check.

"It's a huge weight off our shoulders," Rodriguez said of the Bears' 4-2 win over visiting Washington State. "Especially that first one at night. It was like, ‘Are we ever going to win at night? When's it going to happen?' That's awesome for coach Esquer to get his 400th. We knew he was at 399 this whole time, and we've been trying to get it. Overall, it's just a great win, and it's nice to do it on a Friday night."

The Bears got off the schnide on Friday against the Cougars, coming up with the victory at home behind the team's first quality start since March 28 on the part of freshman starter Ryan Mason.

"We've played better," Esquer said. "We didn't play great, but we played better, and it starts with starting pitching. We haven't had a lot of that lately, and Mason gave us a good, solid outing. We played defense behind him. We still made some mistakes that could have cost us, but we picked each other up."

Mason sported newly-shorn locks and Cal's good-luck gold jerseys, which were worn throughout the 2011 College World Series run.

"He said he did it to get us a win, and, lo and behold, it worked," said reliever Logan Scott, who tossed 2.2 innings of solid relief, allowing two hits and one run while striking out one. "It seems like we wore the golds a long, long, long time ago. They have a little bit of juju. We changed a lot of stuff up today and yesterday to try and get the mojo going, and the golds are a welcome sight."

Senior lefty Justin Jones even got in on the act, needing just two pitches with two outs and one man on in the top of the ninth to get Cougars pinch hitter Ian Sagdal to fly out to left for his first save of the season after being demoted from the starting rotation.

Cal (17-20, 6-10 in the Pac-12) got its first conference win since a 15-5 victory over USC on March 30, banging out eight hits, led by a 2-for-4, two-RBI day from Rodriguez, who has broken out of a 1-for-25 slide with six hits in his last 11 at-bats, including what turned out to be a decisive blow against starter Joe Pistorese -- a 1-2 line-drive homer to right with one out in the bottom of the sixth.

"He hung that one," said Rodriguez, who struck out earlier on three straight curveballs in the bottom of the second and had been struggling against breaking pitches during his slump. "I was seeing him well. They were pitching me a little differently than a lot of teams lately, especially in the first at-bat. All three breaking balls, and I hadn't really seen that all that much, so I stored that in the bank for later. That at-bat, I knew, because he got ahead of me, he was going to try and go there again, so I sat on it."

Pistorese dropped to 4-3 on the year, going 8.0 innings and allowing four runs -- two earned -- on eight hits with 11 strikeouts and no walks.

The Bears benefitted in large part from the absence of one of the best bats in the conference in the person of Nick Tranielu, who was still laid up with a sprained knee, suffered on April 6 against Utah.

"That's a big deal," Esquer said. "Somebody being injured on somebody else's team, I have no sympathy for."

Esquer lost junior starter Derek Campbell early in the season due to a broken leg (Campbell was back in uniform for the first time on Friday, but will take a redshirt season), two-way lefty Michael Theofanopoulos to a broken hand against Utah, third baseman Chris Paul to a concussion during practice this week (hitting a ball off a screen, then taking the ball to the face and, flailing, hitting himself above the left eye with his own bat) and has not had senior Vince Bruno all season due to hip surgery.

"I've got enough guys here on the sideline watching," Esquer said. "We've got a lot of guys watching. I just accept it as part of the game, and you've got to be able to compete with whoever you've got out there."

Rodriguez benefitted from being dropped down one spot in the lineup, with catcher Andrew Knapp moving up to third and switching places with the junior slugger. Knapp went 1-for-4 with a run.

"[Knapp] has been the hotter hitter at that point, and I just wanted to make sure that he had the chance to set the table a little bit more, drive some runs in and keep the line going when Devon comes up so he can get that hit," Esquer said.

Blow by Blow

The Bears got on the board first against Washington State (18-17, 5-8) thanks to a two-out rally in the bottom of the third, capped off by a two-run double to right center by second baseman Brenden Farney.

After flying out weakly to left on the second pitch he saw from Pistorese in the bottom of the first, Farney stepped to the dish in the bottom of the third after right fielder Jacob Wark led off the frame with a kicking grounder off the glove of second baseman Trek Stamp, and moved to third on a hard single to the right side off the bat of freshman center fielder Devin Pearson.

Farney took a big, bending curve for a called strike and then took an off-speed pitch low and away for a ball, before getting out on his front foot a bit on Pistorese's third offering but still driving the ball over a diving Jason Monda in right center for a two-run two-bagger.

"I'd seen him throw Devon a lot of curveballs, and he would try to get ahead with that curveball if he threw it first-pitch, and then he'd throw a fastball, just to mix it in," Farney said. "Then, he'd flip another curveball. His curveball was really loopy all night, so I'd kind of seen the curveball and I'd seen him throw the get-me-over fastball outside for a ball, and I was just sitting on curveball, and I got it up."

After the Cougars got a line-drive single by Brett Jacobs with one out in the top of the second, Mason clamped down, holding Washington State hitless into the sixth inning, getting some help from his defense along the way.

In the top of the third, with shortstop Trace Tam Sing on second thanks to a low throw by third baseman Max Dutto after a diving stop, and a sacrifice bunt by Austin Pernell, shortstop Mike Reuvekamp made an alert play on a grounder by Stemp, throwing to third to erase Tam Sing for the second out, before Mason fanned catcher Collin Slaybaugh on a change up in the dirt to end the threat.

With two outs in the top of the fifth, Pernell sent a sinking rocket to second, but Farney was there to make the sliding grab just inches from the dirt on what he said was the hardest ball he'd ever seen hit.

"I was thinking, ‘I can't let this by me,'" Farney smiled. "Then it came in the air and I just came up with it."

With the Bears up 4-0 after Rodriguez's home run in the bottom of the sixth, Mason showed signs of tiring in the top of the seventh, leaving two fastballs up and over the plate for designated hitter P.J. Jones and left fielder Yale Rosen for two straight singles. Jacobs then cracked the first pitch he saw for a single over the middle, scoring Jones to cut the lead to three.

Wasting no time, Esquer pulled the 6-foot-7 freshman in favor of the veteran Scott, who, after getting ahead of Monda 1-2, hit the Cougars slugger in the right leg to load the bases with nobody out.

Tam Sing worked the count full, but then tapped into a 1-2-3 double play to take the pressure off the fifth-year change up artist, who then got Pernell to fly out weakly to Grant Diede in left.

"We work on that every single day, so my idea was just to keep it low, in a place where Knapp's familiar with it so he can catch it, and so he had time to throw the guy out at first," Scott said of the double play. "You could breathe and relax a little bit and just make your pitches after that, and if you make your pitches against a team that's really aggressive, you can get weak contact all over the field."

After a 1-2-3 eighth, Scott got into a jam in the top of the ninth, surrendering a 1-2 single to right off the bat of Jones, before getting a weak grounder to second by Rosen. With one out, a man on second and his slider not quite up to snuff, Scott left a fastball up on an 0-2 pitch to Jacobs, who singled up the middle to drive in a run. Monda -- the Cougars' team leader in home runs and RBI – whiffed on two straight change ups, before flying out to center on a third, 83-mph change-of-pace.

"I threw a bad two-strike [slider] that led to a hit, got talked to by coach [Mike] Neu a bit, and he said it had to be down, which I know, but the change up was working well today and I was able to keep guys off balance," Scott said.

With left-handed hitting Sagdal coming to the dish, and Scott allowing opposing lefties to hit over .300 against him, Esquer went to the pen for Jones, who induced a weak fly out to left to end the game and crack Cal's eight-game losing streak.

"He was finally there at the end of the game," Esquer said of Jones, who has not gotten out of the sixth inning as a starter since March 7. "I want him to be on the mound at the end of the game. It's been a while. I'm hoping that has a bearing on how he feels."

With the win, Esquer tallied his 400th win in his 14-year career as skipper, and remains in fourth place on the all-time program list, behind George Wolfman (463), Clint Evans (528) and Bob Milano (694). Mason moved to 5-2 on the season, and is now halfway to the program's single-season wins record for a freshman, with a projected four starts left. His one-run outing lowered his season ERA to 3.80, and his four strikeouts extended his team-leading total to 35 in 47.1 innings.

"When we were shaking hands on the field, it felt great," said Farney, who went 1-for-4 with two RBIs. "It was like, ‘We ain't done this in a while.' It was like the first game of the year. We're going to start rolling, now."

On Deck

The Bears get back at it on Saturday, concluding Cal Day festivities on April 20 with a 6 p.m. tilt against the Cougars. Esquer had been planning on starting Dylan Nelson (1-3, 3.06 ERA), but will instead send side-arming righty Trevor Hildenberger to the mound. Hildenberger (4-2, 4.66) has made 20 appearances on the season, all out of the bullpen. In 29.0 innings of work, the junior righty has 26 strikeouts to just nine walks, while holding opposing hitters to a .266 batting average.

"No real reason; just because," Esquer said. "We'll see if we can get some innings out of him, and we've still got [Ryan] Wertenberger for a little bit towards the end of the game, or Nelson if it's a chance to win. We're going to go for the win whenever we have it."

BearTerritory.net Top Stories