For the past 20 innings, the California pitching staff has given up precisely bubkis, and the Bears don't show any signs of stopping.
Despite just 3.0 innings of work from starter Kyle Porter, Cal bested Auburn 5-0 on Saturday for their second straight win, thanks to timely hitting and a stellar string of relief work.
"I'm just glad to get a win," said senior designated hitter Devon Rodriguez, who went 2-for-4 with a run. "That's all we're trying to do: Whatever it takes to win. Our pitching staff has been awesome this weekend. When they're throwing up zeroes, it makes it a lot easier on us as an offense, because we know that if we put a couple of runs up, that's going to seal the deal. They've been awesome."
The Bears (4-2) pulled ahead in the second inning against Tigers ace Michael O'Neal, cashing in a one-out walk from freshman second baseman Robbie Tenerowicz -- getting his third straight start – with a bunt from Brenden Farney and an RBI single to center off the bat of catcher Mitchell Kranson -- starting just his second game of the season behind the dish.
Porter faced trouble in each of his three innings of work, allowing two straight one-out singles and a two-out walk in the bottom of the first before wriggling off the hook with an 0-2 fly out by freshman first baseman Keegan Thompson. After striking out sophomore left fielder Jordan Ebert to lead off the second, Porter saw senior designated hitter Patrick Savage reach on a fielding error by Farney, after getting ahead of the 6-foot-1, 223-pounder with two strikes. Porter than hit freshman second baseman Damon Haecker to put two on with one out. Enter: Derek Campbell.
The redshirt junior outfielder snagged a sharply-hit fly ball by speedy freshman Anfernee Grier and fired to second to complete the ever-rare 9-6 double play, ending the inning.
Porter needed yet another guardian angel in the bottom of the third to keep the Bears ahead, when, with two on and two outs, senior outfielder Vince Bruno -- who played a big role in Cal's three-run sixth and laid down two sacrifice hits on the day, going 1-for-2 with two runs – charged a single to right by Keegan and fired home to erase senior shortstop Dan Glevenyak, who led off the inning with a double and tried to score from second.
"Our defense has been pretty reliable right now," Rodriguez said. "Pitching and defense are going to win games, and that's what we've been so far."
Freshman righty Alex Schick -- who lasted 4.2 innings last weekend before leaving with the bases loaded against then-No. 18 Texas – came on in relief, throwing two scoreless innings against the host Tigers, allowing one hit and striking out two.
"Kyle was struggling," said pitching coach Mike Neu. "He was scuffling through every inning. They were putting some hard contact on him, and their lineup was all right-handed. We felt like Alex had a good week of work, and we felt like he was prepared, so we were going to try and pitch him this weekend, at some point, just to get him some innings, because he's going to start next weekend. We thought that would be a good spot for him, he did really well and Porter's going to be back out there next weekend, too. We've just got to get him a little deeper into games and get him through some quicker innings. We've just got to get him to a little better spot. This was not one of his greatest performances today."
Keaton Siomkin and Trevor Hildenberger combined for another three scoreless innings of relief, as the Bears widened the lead.
Bruno and Rodriguez led off with back-to-back singles in the top of the sixth off of big lefty starter O'Neal, who led the Tigers with eight wins and a 2.73 ERA last season.
"He was mostly attacking us with his fastball, and once we realized that was his go-to pitch every time, it was just tee the fastball up and hit it hard," said Rodriguez, who came into Saturday a paltry 3-for-17. "For me, I needed to take every at-bat one pitch at a time. I know it'll come around. I've started off a little slow, but as long as we're winning and I'm doing something to help us, I'm happy with it."
Campbell then sent a 1-0 offering right back up the box, too hot for O'Neal to handle, allowing Campbell to reach base with a single. A seven-pitch walk to first baseman Nick Halamandaris put the Bears up, 2-0, scoring Bruno, and a two-out flare single to left off the bat of Farney brought home Campbell and Rodriguez to stretch the lead to 4-0.
"We've been kind of pushing a little, in the middle of the lineup," Rodriguez said. "Our pitching has just been picking us up. This weekend, we figured it was our time to go, and we strung a couple hits together and it feels nice."
Cal added an insurance run in the top of the seventh, when center fielder Devin Pearson -- starting his first game in the leadoff spot – led off his third inning with a walk, and then proceeded to steal second. Pearson, though, was erased on a fielder's choice off Bruno's bat, but it didn't matter, as Rodriguez came up with his second hit of the day, putting men at the corners. With two outs, Halamandaris singled up the middle on a payoff pitch from 6-foot-6 reliever Daniel Koger to bring Bruno around to score.
Sophomore righty Ryan Mason finished things off, allowing just a two-out walk to Haecker before getting Grier swinging on a 1-2 pitch.
Neu said that, at this point, it will likely be closer-by-committee, with that committee consisting of Mason and Hildenberger.
"We're trying to shorten up the game as much as we can with those two guys, and with Hildenberger going two [Friday], and doing a really good job, we knew he would probably only be available for one inning or less, maybe a couple of hitters," Neu said. "We had him ready to maybe get out of trouble for Keaton in an inning, and we didn't want to get him up twice, so we brought him in there in the eighth and got the one inning out of him, and we wanted to get Mason on there, because it was a good spot for him. Both of those guys did a good job, and I think we will use both of them going forward, based on the situation, and the day. I think it's nice to have two competitive strike-throwers in that back end. I feel like it gives us some options."
Though he only tossed two innings, Schick earned his first collegiate win, facing one batter over the minimum and striking out two – both coming in the bottom of the fifth after he allowed a leadoff double to Grier.
The Bears finish off the series at 8 a.m. (PT) against winless Arkansas Pine Bluff, with redshirt junior lefty Michael Theofanopoulos (0-1, 3.60 ERA) taking the hill.
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