BERKELEY -- This 2013 season has realized what California baseball coach David Esquer feared when his program was rescued from cancellation in 2011. Esquer said more than a year ago that the hole in the program created by nine months of lost recruiting would be quality pitching, and that hole reared its head on Saturday, as the Bears threw five pitchers in a 7-6 loss to Washington State to even the series at one win apiece.
"We mortgaged the farm, the ranch and house," Esquer said. "Any thoughts of possibly having [Justin] Jones for a little bit longer against that left-handed lineup, there was no guarantee of having tomorrow's game, so we went after today's game, and it didn't backfire, but we lost."
Junior starter Trevor Hildenberger was pressed into service in his first career start and made two big mistakes: A one-out, 2-2, two-run home run to right fielder Adam Nelubowich in the first inning and a 2-2, no-out, two-run blast to designated hitter Yale Rosen in the top of the fourth.
"There's not much to say," Esquer said after a brief confab with his players in short right field. "We got beat. They won the big spot. They got the two-out hit in the ninth, and we didn't get a hit and ran ourselves out of the game.
"Tough lineup for [Hildenberger] to face. Not the ideal lineup for him to face with eight lefties and a righty, but he kind of hung in there. We just needed to get into the game a little bit with him, and we were able to get four. And, yet, we matched their starter."
Catcher Andrew Knapp led the Bears (17-21, 6-11 in the Pac-12) at the plate, going 3-for-5 with a first-inning, two-run homer and three total RBI, but behind the plate, it was another matter. Knapp couldn't get in front of five wild pitches by Cal hurlers, with two of the runners who advanced on those wild pitches coming around to score. Knapp was also on base in the bottom of the ninth, when a baserunning blunder by the junior catcher sealed the game for the Cougars (19-17, 6-8).
After Washington State pulled ahead in the top of the frame on a one-out RBI single by Monda, Cal had something cooking in the final frame, when second baseman Brenden Farney reached base with a bunt single to the right side, just past pitcher Jason Monda. Knapp then skipped a 2-0 grounder through the hole on the left side to put two men on for Rodriguez, who came into the game with a .326 batting average against southpaws. With a 1-2 count, Rodriguez sent a fly ball to center, allowing Farney to tag up and advance to third, but on the throw in, Knapp tried to get into a rundown between first and second to allow Farney to score, but was summarily erased before the sophomore infielder crossed the plate.
"It's tough to explain," Esquer said. "I don't know what was really going on over there on the bases, but it wasn't good baseball. I don't know what he was thinking. He wasn't really there. They're not going to allow the winning run to move up to second base by throwing out the lead runner at third."
Blow by Blow
After falling behind 2-0 in the top of the first, Cal got the pair of runs back thanks to a one-out, two-run blast Knapp in the bottom of the first inning. In the bottom of the second, Cal loaded the bases with no outs against starter Tanner Chleborad, and pulled ahead on a Devin Pearson single through the left side. After Farney struck out on a slider down and in from reliever Chris McDowell, Knapp came up big again, crushing a single through the right side to put Cal ahead, 4-2.
With the bases loaded and one out, though, Rodriguez took a called third strike on a curve on the outside corner, and freshman first baseman Nick Halamandaris swung and missed on an off speed pitch down to leave the bases loaded.
In all, the Bears left seven men on base, with the third-through-sixth hitters accounting for all seven.
"The key to the game was the kid who struck us out two times with the bases loaded," Esquer said.
The Cougars (19-17, 6-8) pulled ahead in the top of the fifth, thanks to a misplayed groundball by shortstop Mike Reuvekamp and a one-out flyball double to left center by Nelubowich, who went 3-for-3 with two runs and four RBI and a walk.
Nelubowich would strike again in the top of the seventh, coming up with two on and one out thanks to an error on a hot shot to first by Jason Monda which took the glove off of Halamandaris and allowed catcher Collin Slaybaugh to reach third. On a 1-1 count against righty reliever Ryan Wertenberger, Nelubowich sent a sacrifice fly to center to make the score 6-4 in favor of the visiting Cougars.
In the bottom of the frame, though, it was Cal's turn to make things interesting. With one out, Farney rocketed a single to center and became the first Bears hitter to reach base against reliever J.D. Leckenby. After Leckenby fanned Knapp on five pitches, Rodriguez -- relegated to designated hitter duties due to complications with his injured shoulder -- snuck a groundball double inside the bag at third to score Farney all the way from first, cutting the lead to one.
Halamandaris then sent a first-pitch roller to second, but Sagdal's toss back to Leckenby covering the bag sailed high, bringing Rodriguez in to tie the game at 6-6.
After lefty reliever Chris Muse-Fisher got out of a one-on, one-out jam in the top of the seventh by inducing a groundout from Rosen, and recorded a groundout by Sagdal in the top of the eighth, he dealt a six-pitch walk to Ben Roberts and was lifted for righty Dylan Nelson -- who was on track to start Sunday's series finale.
Nelson promptly got a strike-em-out-throw-em-out double play to end the threat. In the top of the ninth, though, Nelson got into trouble, allowing a one-out line-drive single up the middle by Trace Tam Sing, before being lifted for lefty Justin Jones. The deposed senior starter then got the dangerous Slaybaugh to fly out to left for the second out of the inning.
After getting ahead of Monda 2-2, Jones spun a curve into the dirt to try and get Monda to bite, but Knapp couldn't keep it in front of him, and as he sprinted to snag the errant ball just a few feet behind the plate, Tam Sing broke to second. Knapp stood up, but left the ball in the grass, allowing the winning run to move into scoring position. After Monda fouled the next pitch in off his hands, he sent a hard grounder through the right side to score the Cougars' seventh and final run of the game.
-- Cal started five freshmen in the lineup on Saturday – Pearson, Max Dutto, Halamandaris, Grant Diede and Brian Celsi -- for the first time this season, with junior two-way player Michael Theofanopoulos likely out fo the season with a broken hand, junior Derek Campbell out for the year with a broken leg and sophomore Chris Paul out with a concussion.
"Zero options, no options – that's all we've got," Esquer said. "We're hoping [Paul] is back by next weekend. He hasn't been cleared for activity this weekend."
Esquer had to pull Dutto after the top of the third because the freshman third baseman out of Danville (Calif.) San Ramon Valley came back to the dugout with arm trouble. Dutto had biceps tendonitis in the fall, but Esquer doesn't think this problem is related.
"Dutto's arm, something happened to his arm," Esquer said. "He just came in and said he just couldn't throw. It was very strange. He said he just couldn't throw."
-- Freshman Mitchell Kranson -- a catcher by trade -- played well in Dutto's stead, fielding a tough bunt in between the mound and third in the top of the ninth, calling off Nelson to cut down center fielder Austin Pernell at first to lead off the inning.
"I think they were trying to force the ball into his hands," Esquer said. "They wanted him to handle the ball."
-- After starting to pull out of his slump over the past three games by going 5-for-13 with a home run and three RBIs, Rodriguez went 1-for-5 with a run and an RBI on Saturday, dropping his season average to .286.
With the Cougars' left-handed heavy lineup, it looks as though the Bears will go with either lefty Kyle Porter or sophomore righty Keaton Siomkin as the starter for Sunday's 2 p.m. series finale on Sunday. Siomkin has failed to go longer than 2.0 innings in each of his last three starts, allowing 10 earned runs on 14 hits in 4.0 innings of work with two walks and five strikeouts.
Pitching Shortage Continues to Plague Bears
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