Over the past five games, the California baseball team had hit just .152 (23-for-151), but on Saturday, the Bears broke out the bats and battered No. 6 Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, 8-3, on the strength of 12 hits – including multi-hit games from Devon Rodriguez (2-for-5, double), Derek Campbell (2-for-3, two runs) and Nick Halamandaris (3-for-4, double, one run) -- to break a five-game losing streak and notch its sixth win over a ranked team this season.
"I think, [Friday] night, we got a little bit of confidence," Rodriguez said. "We didn't have a lot of hits, but we put together a lot of good at-bats. As a team, we've been working really hard and just grinding a lot. I think, today, we were just able to barrel up a couple more balls than we did last night."
Left-handed starting pitcher Kyle Porter was straight-up dominant for five innings, retiring the first 12 hitters he faced and finishing with his third win of the season thanks to a four-run second by his hitters, as he went 5.1 innings, allowing three earned runs on five hits with four strikeouts
"That was awesome," said Rodriguez, who, along with Porter, represent two of the five players left from the 2011 College World Series team still on the roster. "Porter's been awesome for us all season, and he's starting to look like freshman-year Porter, so we know that if we just get him a couple runs, we're in a good spot. Once we put up four, we knew that he was going to give us a good outing, like he always does."
After Porter, Trevor Hildenberger came on for a long, 3.2-inning save, allowing just one hit and allowing one inherited runner to score while striking out four and saving the bullpen for the second two games of the series against the Mustangs (18-4).
"It's a little refreshing after the last five nights," said head coach David Esquer. "We've been struggling and not very good with the bat, and we were just trying to establish ourselves with the bat; we hadn't done that. It was nice to at least offense against a good ball club."
Cal (11-10) saw all but one starter register at least one base hit on Saturday, and the Bears tallied double-digit base knocks for the first time since March 1 against Baylor in the University of San Diego Tournament.
"It's felt every bit of that," Esquer said of Cal's offensive funk. "We've had just no rhythm. Granted, we're playing quality people, and I don't think there's a cupcake or patsy on our schedule, but hey, we've talked all along that we scheduled some people to calibrate our team to that level of play, because that's who we have to compete with. UCLA threw us a little bit into a funk, and it's been a struggle and a battle for us to get out of it."
The Bears got off to a quick start against freshman Justin Calomeni, leading off the top of the second with three straight base hits – the third a line-drive single to right off the bat of Brenden Farney to plate Halamandaris. Then, a well-placed bunt from third baseman Chris Paul forced a throw by Calomeni to third, where Campbell slid under the tag to load the bases.
Sophomore catcher Mitchell Kranson went the other way with a line-drive single over the head of third baseman Jimmy Allen and into left field for a single, bringing home two runs and putting Cal up, 3-0. After an Aaron Knapp bunt to move Kranson and Paul into scoring position, right fielder Brian Celsi roped a 2-2 single back up the middle to plate Paul, giving Porter a comfortable 4-0 lead, though Kranson was cut down by a strong relay throw by shortstop Peter Van Gansen to end the inning.
"We knew [Calomeni] was a good pitcher, but we were just really looking to get into good counts and attack with the fastball," Rodriguez said. "He really never wavered from his fastball. I don't think he really had his best off-speed stuff, so once we knew that, we were hunting fastballs and were able to put good swings on balls."
Knapp, though, wasn't quite done making an impact. The freshman and younger brother of second-round MLB Draft pick Andrew Knapp came up with a crucial two-run inside-the-park home run for his first college hit in the top of the eighth, after the Mustangs had cut the lead to 5-3, sending a liner up into the jet stream over center and over the head of center fielder Jordan Ellis, scoring both himself and Paul, aboard with a leadoff single up the middle.
"It was pretty exciting," Esquer said. "He broke in, and it had a lot of backspin and just kept going. It just got by him, and it was great to see him have a chance to do that."
Rodriguez was in the dugout during the commotion, and the veteran was particularly pleased to see the younger brother of a former teammate do some damage.
"We knew [third base coach Tony Arnerich] was going to send him; he was flying," Rodriguez said. "It looked like an easy inside-the-park home run for him. It wasn't even really close. As soon as he got going, there's not many people in the country that are faster than him. It was awesome to see that for him, especially his first collegiate hit."
Cal Poly had finally gotten to Porter in the bottom of the fifth, thanks to a leadoff double by designated hitter Brian Mundell and then a one-out single from Mark Mathias to get the Mustangs on the board. Mathias stole second on the first pitch to Van Gansen, and took third on a hard liner to third, knocked down by Paul and scored an infield single. With the count 0-1 to catcher Chris Hoo, Porter uncorked a wild pitch to Kranson, bringing Mathias around to score.
The Bears got one run back in the top of the sixth, when Calomeni hit Campbell with the first pitch of the frame, then slipped on the mound trying to field a would-be sacrifice bunt from Farney, and threw wildly to first, putting two men in scoring position. Calomeni then hit Paul with a curve square in the back to load the bases for reliever Danny Zandona, who got Kranson to fly out, before Knapp sent a slow roller to second to bring home Campbell on the fielder's choice.
Porter gave up the ghost in the bottom of the frame, though, following a line-drive leadoff single off his left triceps by left fielder Tim Wise, then a sacrifice bunt. Porter got ahead of slugger Nick Torres 0-2, but lost the senior masher on a single up the middle to put runners at the corners.
"He had just gotten hit with a line drive off his triceps, and it didn't look like he had the same stuff; it didn't look as sharp after that," Esquer said. "We had Trevor ready to go, and I didn't want to go too long with our starter."
With one out, Porter took a seat for Hildenberger, who allowed an RBI single to Mundell on a 2-2 offering, but then nothing else, rolling up an inning-ending double play and then finishing off his fifth save of the season.
"He was outstanding," Esquer said. "He was just outstanding."
Cal next sees action on Sunday at 1 p.m. down in San Luis Obispo, with redshirt junior Michael Theofanopoulos (1-3, 3.80 ERA) going against sophomore righty Casey Bloomquist (4-0, 0.99).
"To be quite honest, they're such a quality offensive team, that they're fairly relentless," Esquer said. "That's quite a feat to hold them down like Porter and Trevor did. They may be prepared for an offensive game, and I think they've played a couple of 9-8 games, and I think they lost to Seattle 15-14, so we're going to have to score, ourselves."
Bears Batter No. 6 Cal Poly
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