Familiarity, the old bromide goes, breeds contempt, and, judging by how the California baseball team's bats responded to former Bear and current San Diego two-way southpaw Louie Lechich, there is certainly no love lost for the member of the 2011 Bears College World Series team.
In the night half of a Monday doubleheader, Cal more than tripled Lechich's season ERA, touching him up for five runs – all earned – on six hits and two hit batsmen in 5.1 innings of work, with all five runs coming the top of the third fueling a 5-2 win over the Toreros. The victory was the Bears' sixth in a row and third in two days, as they moved to 8-2 on the season, dealing No. 24 San Diego its second loss of the season. The win gives Cal three victories over ranked teams in its first 10 games. The last time the Bears started off this well? 2008, when Cal started the season 8-1-1 in its first 10 games. That season, the Bears won 15 of their first 18 games and made a Regional. In the 2011 CWS year, Cal started 6-4, losing two of three games against ranked teams.
"It's as tough a schedule as I've ever had," said head coach David Esquer. "Our guys have worked hard for it. We're not a finished product, by any means, yet, and we still don't know what's going to be our best lineups, but they've played really, really tough ballgames and tough teams very well."
Kyle Porter humming on the hill, the Bears got the first two men on in the top of the third, thanks to a Robbie Tenerowicz single and catcher Jesse Kay taking a hit-by-pitch.
Shortstop Mike Reuvekamp bunted both men into scoring position, and sophomore center fielder Devin Pearson obliged with a double down the right field line to score two. A double by senior Vince Bruno (4-for-14 with two doubles on the weekend) put two more men into scoring position for Devon Rodriguez, who, after going 0-for-3 in the morning game, rifled a single to left to score Pearson.
Redshirt junior Derek Campbell followed the opposite-field hit parade, finding some grass in right to drive in Bruno and move Rodriguez to second. Sophomore first baseman Nick Halamandaris got the Bears fifth straight opposite-field base hit, singling to left to drive in Rodriguez.
Going the other way five batters in a row was, Esquer said, not part of the game plan.
"You know, not really; we really just got on a roll," he said. "We had good at-bat after good at-bat, and guys just took what he gave us. He was throwing fine, and we were barreling up some balls for outs early on, and we finally put a string of at-bats together that were solid."
Pearson finished the weekend 4-for-11 (.364) at the top of the lineup, driving in two and scoring three, while posting an on-base percentage of .461.
Cal got 5.0 shutout innings from Porter, who scattered three hits over that stretch with one walk and three strikeouts, but Porter got into some trouble in the bottom of the sixth, allowing a one-out triple to first baseman Connor Joe, and then delivering a wild pitch to Daniel, bringing Joe home to score. Porter then allowed a single to Daniel and then a double to catcher Jesse Jenner, before being lifted for Keaton Siomkin.
The junior righty fanned switch-hitting pinch hitter Austin Bailey and got pinch hitter Ben Wylly to fly out to center to end the threat.
Siomkin allowed three singles –including an RBI base hit by Lechich – and got one out in the bottom of the seventh before he was lifted for Trevor Hildenberger, who got the save in the first half of the doubleheader against Baylor earlier in the day. The side-arming righty fanned Joe and got Daniel to fly out to center to hold the lead. Hildenberger then worked a scoreless eighth with a strikeout and a walk, before struggling in the ninth, allowing two one-out singles, again, including one to Lechich, who finished 2-for-5.
"I was a little bit worried, but I'm probably a little more forgiving with a submariner," Esquer said of throwing Hildenberger twice on the same day. "If he threw overhand, I would never do it. But, the fact that he throws from down below, there's a little more resiliency there, and he wanted to do it. We may have had to be smart for him, but I felt a little safer."
Hildenberger was then lifted for freshman righty Lucas Erceg, who, after walking Joe, got Daniel to roll into a 5-3 double play to finish the Bears' doubleheader sweep, with Porter getting his first win of the year, and Erceg earning his first collegiate save.
The one thing that keeps Esquer up at night, despite the hot start, is pitching. With freshman Alex Schick going just 2.1 innings in the first game, and Porter only getting to the sixth, the Bears still need probably one more weekend starter to emerge.
"We need one more guy," Esquer said. "We've got to develop someone to take us into the sixth or seventh on a Saturday, and that could help set us up for the rest of the weekend. That still is unsettled, as far as who's going to be able to take us the distance. Kyle is solid for five-plus, and the story was that nobody could finish, but they handed it off to someone who could. Kyle to Keaton, Keaton to Trevor and Trevor to Erceg. Sometimes, you have to do that."
That next starter may very well be last season's Friday-night hurler, Ryan Mason. Mason threw in relief twice this weekend, and could be stretched back out to be a starter over the next few weeks, after missing all of January with a sprained MCL held back his development.
"You know what, I think we're looking to see if we can stay this way through Cal Poly," Esquer said. "I think maybe after Cal Poly will be when we have to decide how we need to ride the rest of the way."
Cal comes back home on Tuesday to face a struggling Stanford at Evans Diamond at 6 p.m., on the Pac-12 Networks. The Cardinal are 4-7, following series losses to Rice and Texas, as well as a series sweep at the hands of Vanderbilt on the road.
Stanford will face redshirt junior lefty Michael Theofanopoulos, who fanned nine in 6.0 innings last time out.
"Stanford, they have had no cupcake on their schedule, either," Esquer said. "They've had Rice, Texas on the road and Vanderbilt. You have that schedule so that you're ready to play everybody, when it comes down to league, so I think they've been sharpening their skill against some of the best pitching in the country, so we've got to be prepared for a team that is looking to improve."
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