STOCKTON, Calif. -- The California baseball team effectively hit the stripes right off the Pacific Tigers on Tuesday, crushing three home runs and banging out 17 hits en route to a 13-2 mauling of Ed Sprague's floundering club.
"You've got to come out and still play," said Bears head coach David Esquer of the romp over 10-28 Pacific. "The conditions the way they were, with the wind blowing out, it really makes it a dangerous game, because anything can happen with the wind blowing out like it did."
Cal (21-23) tallied its fifth win in the last eight games on the back of multi-hit days from catcher Andrew Knapp, center fielder Devin Pearson, third baseman Mitchell Kranson, first baseman Nick Halamandaris and second baseman Brenden Farney.
"All those guys -- Kranson is a good example -- are starting to be more productive, from where they were, just swimming upstream," Esquer said. "Nick's had those moments of swimming upstream, but he's starting to have those moments where he looks and feels a little more comfortable, and that's what it's about with all these freshmen. They all weren't made to jump out here and play every day, but they are, because of necessity, and they're going to have to inch their way forward."
Knapp, Halamandaris and shortstop Chris Paul each went deep for Cal, starting with a second-inning leadoff blast from Halamandaris into the teeth of a blustering wind blowing in from right. With his 3-for-5, three-RBI day at the dish, Halamandaris broke out of an 0-for-12 slump.
"Coach has been saying, ‘You need to make the game slow down a little bit,'" said Halamandaris, who chose to come to Berkeley after being selected in the eighth round of the 2012 Major League Draft by the Seattle Mariners. "It's a whole different ballgame, but you've got to be able to find your niche in the game and how you're going to succeed. I've got a long way to go, but mostly, it's trying to stick with an approach."
Knapp went 3-for-4 with three runs and two RBI, belting his team-leading seventh home run of the season, while Paul crushed his seventh circuit shot of the year during a 1-for-5, two-run, three-RBI day.
Farney's day got off to an inauspicious start, as he grounded into a first-inning double play and then saw the first two balls of the bottom of the first take wicked hops over and around him, leading to Pacific's first run of the evening.
Right fielder Brett Sullivan sent the first pitch he saw from Bears starter Jake Schulz between Farney and Halamandaris, but Farney ranged to his left and snagged the ball on the outfield grass. As Farney jumped and spun to throw to first, he came down awkwardly on his ankle. On the very next pitch from Schulz to shortstop J.J. Wagner, Farney saw a grounder take a kangaroo hop off the lip of the grass, after which it skittered into right center field and all the way to the wall for an unorthodox RBI triple to tie the game at 1-1.
"It was windy and the field was playing hot," Esquer said. "We had a ball chopped over the second baseman's head for a triple. It looked as though we weren't comfortable with the playing conditions."
Halamandaris's first-pitch jack on a belt-high fastball in the top of the second gave Cal the lead for good, as the Bears scored runs in each of the first eight innings.
"He left the fastball up and I was just trying to be aggressive," Halamandaris said. "I didn't have a hit last weekend, so I was just trying to go up there swinging and it hit the barrel, and it just went. It feels awesome, and hopefully, we can make a little run and take it into Oregon State, Arizona State and Stanford, after that."
In the top of the third, Halamandaris fisted a 1-2 pitch from starter Kyle Crawford into the grass in front of short, where the ball died, allowing Knapp -- aboard with a walk -- to score easily for the third run of the inning, following an RBI single by Pearson and a sacrifice fly by Kranson.
Halamandaris struck again in the top of the fifth, sending a high hopper just over the mound and over the glove of reliever Mike Hagar to cash in a one-out double by Pearson and put the Bears up, 7-1.
"I've never had a game like that," Halamandaris said of his night, with a titanic blast followed by a duck fart and a gork, respectively. "Those two hits, I don't think I've ever had a hit like that, let alone two in the same game."
A pop-fly double by Knapp in the top of the sixth scored Farney -- aboard on a two-out line-drive single through the left side -- to make it 8-1 over the Tigers (10-28).
Cal erupted for four runs in the top of the seventh, when Pearson led off with a bloop single on a second-pitch curve and Kranson blasted a ground-rule double to deep center. With right fielder Jacob Wark at the dish, Hagar fired an 0-2 pitch into the dirt, but catcher J.P. Yakel flipped the ball off the tip of his mitt and out into the grass in front of home plate, allowing Pearson to sprint home. Wark reached base on a dropped third strike before Paul sent a soaring drive to left center field for a three-run homer, briefly taking over the team longball lead.
Knapp answered right back in the top of the eighth off of reliever Bryce Lombardi, rudely greeting the freshman righty with a first-pitch bomb to right center field for the Bears' final tally.
Cal got another encouraging relief performance from junior lefty Kyle Porter, who earned the win with four innings of shutout ball, scattering four hits and walking two while striking out a pair. Over his last three outings, Porter has thrown 7.1 innings of shutout ball, allowing five hits and four walks while striking out four, getting his first win of the season on Tuesday.
"The change up was a heck of a pitch for him," Esquer said. "He was popping them up and getting a lot of swing-and-misses. It's obviously very encouraging, the way he made the hitters look. It's more about how the hitter looks than the velocity, for us."
Junior lefty Michael Theofanopoulos finally got the cast off of his hand, but will sit out the rest of the year. The Bears also found out this week that junior Mike Reuvekamp -- who was in the midst of a seven-game hitting streak during which he went 14-for-27 -- is done for the year after breaking a finger on Saturday against Washington.
Farney's 2-for-6 day extended his hitting streak to five games, during which he's gone 9-for-25 with four runs, four doubles and one RBI.
Knapp extended his hitting streak to three games, during which he has gone 7-for-15 with five RBIs, two walks, two doubles and a home run.
Kranson has come alive as of late, and with his 2-for-4 day, he has now hit safely in five of his last seven games, going 9-for-33, slugging .364 with four runs, five RBIs and three doubles, striking out just twice in 34 plate appearances. Kranson has gone 6-for-14 in his last three games.
Pearson has now hit safely in five of his last eight games and has reached base safely in seven of those eight games, with an on-base percentage of .500 and a .333 batting average. Over that stretch, Pearson has four RBIs and has scored five runs.
"He's one of those freshmen that keeps growing, but he started off fast," Esquer said. "He looks beyond his years. He looks mature at the plate and he's playing better center field and making some plays for us, which is big. We've got to add those kids up. We've got to add up the Pearsons and the Halamandaris's and the Kransons and add them to the people we can count on in the future. It's baptism by fire, for sure."
Cal concludes its seven-game road trip with a three-game set this weekend in Corvallis, Ore., against No. 5 Oregon State, before returning home to finish out the season with seven home games against No. 8 Arizona State, No. 22 Stanford and Gonzaga, which just dropped out of the four major top-25 polls.
The Bears are scheduled to unveil the final piece of the latest round of renovations to Evans Diamond on May 10, debuting a state-of-the-art video scoreboard in left center field in the 5:35 p.m. series opener against the Sun Devils.
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