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BERKELEY -- California ensured a series split with No. 18 Texas on Saturday night, beating the Longhorns 2-1 in the first game of a doubleheader against the Big 12 power, before falling 6-2 behind a rocky start from freshman righty Alex Schick in the nightcap. Going into this opening series, head coach David Esquer knew that his young team would have to undergo a baptism by fire, and so far, the Bears have done just that.
"We're playing the best competition in the country, and I think there's a lot to learn," Esquer said. "You're not Texas and you're not the winningest coach in Division I baseball if you're not going to be ready to play after a little adversity. Those type of people that come and play with their backs against the wall, we have to learn from that, and we gave them a lot."
Kyle Porter -- who worked in and out of jams to go 5.0 innings, scattering seven hits and allowing just one run while striking out four with no walks – and three energizing relief innings from sophomore Ryan Mason. Sophomore Devin Pearson -- who is now 3-for-11 on the series – came up big in the bottom of the eighth, driving an RBI single into center to break a 1-1 tie.
"It's obviously great to win the first game in exciting fashion," Esquer said. "We battled. We played head-to-head with Texas, and you come out and win? In a tight ballgame, late in the game and you take that game from them? That's a big deal. That's great."
In the second half of the twin bill, though, Schick could not duplicate the Friday night success of his recruiting classmate Daulton Jefferies, though, walking four and throwing 83 pitches in just 4.2 innings in the second game, as the Bears allowed six free passes after giving out just two in the first two games, with four of those six walks coming around to score.
"The second one, they're Texas," Esquer said. "Auggie Garrido's going to have his team ready to play, down 0-2. Like I've said, we are calibrating our level of play against the best competition in college baseball. Against the best competition in college baseball, with a pitching staff and arms like they have, if you walk and give them runs, they have a staff that may not return the favor, and they didn't. They didn't implode, they didn't give us a whole lot, but, in a game where we gave them a lot in the middle innings, you look up and it was a one-pitch game in the bottom of the eight. We had two guys on, we scored a run and all of the sudden, we've got the go-ahead run at home plate and one pitch is the separation of the game."
BLOW BY BLOW: GAME ONE
In the 1 p.m. tilt, the Longhorns crept ahead during a laborious 22-pitch second inning by Porter, using their trademark station-to-station style to cash in a leadoff single by Andy McGuire with a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly off the bat of Ben Johnson to take a 1-0 lead.
Much as they did in Friday's opener, the Bears got even thanks to a fielding miscue by Texas, and once again, veteran Derek Campbell -- who is 5-for-12 on the series with three runs and three doubles -- was right in the middle of it.
After freshman Robbie Tenerowicz came up with his first collegiate hit in his first start to lead off the bottom of the third, senior Vince Bruno came up with his second hit of the series to put two men on with one out for Campbell. After a back-me-up slider from Dilon Peters missed inside, Campbell sent the next pitch rolling to third baseman McGuire. McGuire fired to second to erase Bruno, but second baseman Brooks Marlow's throw to first baseman Kacy Clemens went wide, turning what would have been an inning-ending double play into a game-tying fielder's choice, scoring Tenerowicz.
[PREMIUM VIDEO: Scouting Tenerowicz]
Campbell then made a running grab in right field with two outs and a man on in the top of the third to safe a sure double and keep the game tied at 1-1. Porter gave up a pair of two-out singles in the fifth, before winning a six-pitch battle with Tres Barrera with a swing-and-miss curve in the dirt to end the threat.
After retiring six straight Cal hitters, Peters finally gave up a single to Bruno to lead off the bottom of the sixth. After reaching third on a bunt and a single by Pearson, though, Bruno was stranded when slugger Devon Rodriguez lazily flied out to left.
Mason -- last year'S Friday starter, slowed this fall by a sprained MCL – came on in relief in the bottom of the seventh like a house afire, retiring six straight Longhorns on 27 pitches and once again setting the stage for Campbell.
The senior led off the eighth against Justin Peters with a line-drive double over left fielder Zane Gurwitz's head, and took third on a sacrifice bunt from Mike Reuvekamp, then rode home on a line-drive single by Pearson for the go-ahead run.
Mason – working quickly and visibly shaking with adrenaline -- was key in swinging the momentum, striking out three in 3.0 innings of work without a single walk, allowing two hits, and getting out of a two-on, one-out jam in the bottom of the ninth by inducing a 6-4-3 double play off the bat of pinch hitter Jacob Felts.
"He pitched great," Esquer said. "I thought he would pitch well against them, and hey, obviously the big pitch to end the game – the double play after Rev let a ball squirt into center field, they've got the tying run at third with one out. They're a fly ball, a ground ball, a base hit away from being in the catbird seat a little bit."
Esquer was encouraged by Mason's work, given that in his last scrimmage outing before the season, he threw 28 pitches and allowed four runs in one inning.
"It was really good. Him at his best was a good match for them. They're going to be aggressive, and he was just as aggressive. He was really good. I think he learned from the layoff and the rough (scrimmage) outing and maybe he was motivated to really kind of come out and do his thing, and he did."
BLOW BY BLOW: GAME TWO
As strongly as Mason finished the first half of the twin bill with his trademark sinking fastball and aggressive approach, Schick was a bit timid in the nightcap.
"Schick lost command of his fastball a little bit, and he pitched a little bit young," said pitching coach Mike Neu. "We knew he had a chance to do that, but obviously, tons of upside. He's just going to have to progress. It's hard to be too hard on him just because he's so young and he's never pitched at this level before, and he's facing a tough team. But, he kept us in there and he made some big pitches, too, but he just kind of lost it there at the end. It's tough, because I thought we would have had a chance to win that game if he could get us through five."
Early on, Schick struggled with fastball command, and had to depend on his curveball against the Longhorns. While that pitch can be a swing-and-miss strikeout pitch, it's not quite at the point where the 6-foot-6 freshman can spot it for strikes.
"If I'm judging him as a pitcher, obviously not nearly the quality of start that we would need to beat Texas," Esquer said. "I probably let him go through the fifth, and when he got two outs with nobody on base, you're hoping that he's able to get that last out and get out of there, and if you can't get a minimal start of five innings, you're going to your pen in a four-game series, and that's really hard to do. But, we ended up having to. That's not where you want to be with your starting pitching."
Schick battled himself through his 4.2 innings of work, throwing 83 pitches with the tight strike zone of home plate ump Jake Uhlenhop. After a brisk eight-pitch first inning and a 1-2-3 second from Schick, Cal got on the board in the bottom of the second, thanks to a roped double into the right field corner by first baseman Nick Halamandaris, a sacrifice bunt by Brenden Farney and a low line drive to left off the bat of right fielder Jacob Wark, starting his first game of the season, dropped in front of a diving Johnson for an RBI single.
"He did fine," Esquer said of Wark, who finished 2-for-3 on the day and will continue to battle for time in a crowded outfield. "He earned a start and some playing time. Obviously the dynamic changes a lot with our team with Devon DH'ing and not in the field. It's a wider-open competition if Devon's at first base and we need to play the next-best bat, but it's a little crowded. The outfield – there are two kids who are starting in the outfield that didn't play at all last year, who were out for the whole year. Bruno and Campbell are now a factor in the outfield, and with Pearson having a great freshman year, it gets a little crowded, because now there's (Brian) Celsi and Wark, who did a lot of playing last year. Aaron Knapp, who's a freshman, is doing a nice job, too."
Schick was unable to keep the Longhorns off the board and keep the momentum in the home dugout in the next half inning, walking leadoff man Collin Shaw for just the third free pass surrendered by Bears pitchers over the first two games and change.
Shaw took second on a sacrifice bunt by Marlow, and then it was Cal's turn to struggle on defense, as center fielder Mark Payton -- 5-for-8 on the series – sent a 1-2 offering from Schick rolling towards first, where Halamandaris booted the ball all the way to the second base bag, allowing Shaw to come around to score and giving Texas a 2-1 lead. A wild pitch by Schick to C.J. Hinojosa put Payton at second with just one out.
Campbell – starting the second game at second base – staunched the bleeding, coming up with a tough grounder from Hinojosa (a grounder which, without the wild pitch, would likely have ended the inning via the double play) and then backhanding a sinking liner up the middle by Clemens and firing to first to end the inning.
"He did fine, and Tenerowicz played a very good ballgame, himself," Esquer said. "He really made that big turn at the end of the (first) game, which wasn't an easy one, so we have those hard decisions to make this year, so I think that's a positive. They're still hard."
The Longhorns added a run in the top of the fourth thanks to a leadoff walk, a sacrifice bunt, a balk and an RBI groundout, and, in the top of the fifth, Schick got two quick outs and then gave up the ghost.
After allowing a two-out single to Payton, Schick gave up a seven-pitch walk to Hinojosa and a four-pitch walk to Clemens, loading the bases for McGuire.
"We were one pitch away, and he walked tow in a row," Neu said. "He relied on two pitches – fastball and breaking ball away – and that's just not good enough anymore. He's going to have to be a little more veteran early, and if they do that, they have good enough stuff to do really well."
Fellow freshman righty Alex Martinez -- making his second appearance in as many days – came on and got a groundball from McGuire, but it skittered up the middle for a two-run single, giving Texas a 4-1 lead, before getting catcher Jeremy Montalbano to fly out to a streaking Pearson in center.
"He got a ground ball and it went up the middle; he did as good a job as we can ask for in that situation, pitching back-to-back days," Neu said. "I think, so far, we've seen these young guys have a chance to help us a lot. They're going to be good. We've just got some development, and hopefully we can do it on the fly and get the most out of this year."
[PREMIUM VIDEO: Scouting Martinez]
The Bears had a shot to answer back in the bottom of the frame, with two men on and two out for left fielder Brian Celsi, but the redshirt sophomore flew out weakly to left, stranding two of Cal's eight runners on the game.
Sophomore righty Colin Monsour held the Longhorns scoreless for 2.2 innings, but with two outs in the top of the eighth, he surrendered a walk to Marlow and then a towering home run to Barrera – just the sixth of his career after failing to put one over the wall all last season – for the final tallies.
-- Perhaps of greatest concern over the first three games has been the productivity of the middle of the lineup. Pearson – who has started all three games hitting third, has gone a respectable 3-for-11, but behind him, Rodriguez and Halamandaris have gone a combined 5-for-24 (.208) with nine runners left on base and one extra-base hit.
"Devon's got to find his stride a little bit," Esquer said. "To be quite honest, when you're playing people like Texas and the best people, and runners are in scoring position, they're not just laying in middle-in fastballs. They're pitching. The trick to the game, in college baseball – the trick to being a guy is, with runners in scoring position, can you hit pitches? Or, can you work the count so you can get away from pitches and hit challenge fastballs? That's what we're facing at the highest level. They're getting pitched to, and they've got to develop a comfort in getting the job done when that happens."
-- The trend of getting the vaunted freshman class real-game experience continued on Saturday, with Tenerowicz and Schick getting their first college starts, Knapp coming in to pinch run and play right field and two-way player Lucas Erceg getting his first action as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the ninth in the second game.
Neu said that it's very likely that Erceg – who features a 90 mph fastball and a knuckleball – will pitch in Sunday's series finale.
[PREMIUM VIDEO: Scouting Erceg]
"I think our guys out of the pen tomorrow, we have (Trevor) Hildenberger fresh and he's good to pitch multiple innings, and I think Keaton Siomkin did a great job Friday, and we'll have him available again, and we'll have Lucas Erceg," Neu said. "And, we'll have Dylan Nelson, so we feel pretty good about going to our pen and we're not going to hold anything back."
The Bears and Longhorns hook up for the series finale on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Evans Diamond, with veteran lefty Michael Theofanopoulos taking the hill against Texas' senior righty Nathan Thornhill.
"It would be great of Theo could give us a great outing," Neu said of Theofanopoulos, who broke his hand during the first weekend of Pac-12 play last season and did not play the rest of the year. "He's as capable as any one of our starters that pitched already. If he can give us a good outing, we've got some back-end bullpen that we feel good about."
Theofanopoulos' biggest issue over the past three seasons has been his tendancy to get into his own head with runners on base, but this fall and spring, he's been, as Esquer put it, less electric, but much more steady. Off the field, he's turned into one of the team's emotional leaders.
"He's been confident," Neu said. "He's become more of a pitcher instead of just a thrower, and he understands how to pitch better. He's very capable of doing well tomorrow, and having a great season. For him, it's all about confidence and just being able to attack with his best stuff. If he does that, he's as good as any guy we've got."
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