BERKELEY -- After giving up four runs over the first three innings, California left-handed starter Kyle Porter was frustrated. So was head coach David Esquer.
"He told me to get my [stuff] together, or else I'm not pitching anymore," Porter said.
After giving up a two-run, two-out single to Utah catcher Konnor Armijo in the bottom of the second to fall behind 4-1, Porter took Esquer's words to heart, and retired the next 18 Utes in a row, tallying nine of his career-high 11 strikeouts as the Bears scored three runs in the bottom of the third and pulled ahead with two outs in the bottom of the eighth on a no-doubt-about-it solo home run off the bat of shortstop Derek Campbell to down Utah, 5-4, under the lights.
"If there is ‘best' in us, it's still yet to come," said Esquer, who's team got a little late inning magic from catcher Mitchell Kranson just 24 hours earlier. "Two good performances. In our league, nobody's a gimme. There's nobody you can just show up and beat. You've got to play, and we're the same way: Nobody can just show up and beat us, either."
"That pitcher was pitching in front of the rubber, the whole inning," Esquer said of reliever Tanner Banks. "I finally called the umpire over and I said, ‘I need you to take a look: He is not pitching from the rubber.' After he got the second out, the umpire went up to him and said, ‘Hey, you need to be in contact with the rubber,' and on the first pitch, Derek homered. I had nothing to do with it, but that was the first pitch he threw from the pitching rubber that inning."
The redshirt junior continued his strong play up the middle, making two big plays with the leather for the second straight game since moving back to the infield following a broken hamate bone suffered by Mike Reuvekamp.
"When Rev went down, he came to me and said, ‘Hey, Coach, I'm not going to tell you what to do, but if you need me at short, I can do it. I can give us what Rev gave us,' and, to be honest, I stuck him out there saying, ‘I've got to watch this. If someone's going to put himself on the line like that, I want to see what happens, good or bad,'" Esquer said. "I'm proud of him taking that initiative. That's a big maturing process."
Campbell has played sparkling defense over the past two games, in stark contrast to the last time he was a regular shortstop, in 2012, when he had an .890 fielding percentage.
"It's experience," said Campbell. "It's figuring out what you do wrong and what you do right, and focusing on what you do right and fixing what you do wrong without changing your game. When guys change their game, they dig themselves a hole. You want to fix what you do wrong, but still keep your game."
BLOW BY BLOW
Porter didn't need a lot of defensive help as he threw up zero after zero after zero in his career-long 8.2 innings of work, but he did get a little mechanical tweak from fellow hurler Dylan Nelson after a third inning where he allowed two runs on two hits and a walk in the top of the frame.
"I threw on the side in between the third and the fourth, and threw with Dylan Nelson, and he told me to make an adjustment and get on top of the ball, and that seemed to do the trick," Porter said. "I was pushing the ball. The ball was flat, and I was pushing it. Then, I actually started pitching. When I stay on top, everything's better. Velo is firmer, the ball is down more, the slider has more bite, the change up works instead of just floating."
Up to that point, Utah had been barreling up Porter's breaking stuff regularly, but afterwards, the Utes just couldn't buy contact.
"Porter hung in there. I didn't think he had it early on, and I was really worried because they were barreling him up a few balls early, and I probably ticked him off by telling him that they were doing so," Esquer said. "He settled down and found that differential – fastball and change up. I said, ‘We're not going to be able to wait much longer, because we're down by three,' and he found it."
Before Porter could take the mound again, he got some help from the Cal bats. Center fielder Devin Pearson led off the frame by taking a full-count offering from starter Zach Adams in the left shoulder. Right fielder Brian Celsi then lined the second pitch he saw from Adams back up the middle for a single. With designated hitter Devon Rodriguez -- who drove in the game's first run by tattooing an 0-1 first-inning pitch from Adams into the right field corner – at the dish, Adams uncorked a wild pitch, bringing Pearson around to score.
After Rodriguez drew a walk, first baseman Nick Halamandaris sent a slow roller up the middle, where shortstop Cory Hunt couldn't corral the ball in front of the second base bag, allowing another run to score. Campbell then delivered a hard shot to the right side for a single, moving Rodriguez to third for second baseman Brenden Farney, who promptly sent a sacrifice fly deep to center to knot the game at 4-4.
"When we tied it up, 4-4, I was like, ‘Sweet. New start. Fresh game,'" Porter said. "I can flush those first three."
"It kept him in the game," Esquer said of the three-run inning, in which eight Bears came to the plate. "He probably would have stayed in there, but he wouldn't have had much of a leash. I wish we would have gotten him a lead earlier, because I think he could have cruised, because he was getting stronger as we went."
From there, Porter cruised, setting the Utes down in order in the top of the fourth on just six pitches, and then not allowing a base runner until he walked right fielder Zach Jones with two outs in the ninth.
"The slider started working," Porter said. "That was the big difference. I started backdoor-ing guys, getting backwards K's and throwing at their back foot. That was the big difference."
Campbell – who led the offense with a 3-for-4 day at the dish, upping his average from .250 to .271 – pushed Cal ahead in the bottom of the eighth after a strikeout by Rodriguez and a four-pitch groundout from Halamandaris. Banks hung a first-pitch slider that Campbell promptly deposited over the wall to the left of the video board, and that was that.
"I got lucky," Campbell said. "He threw both Devon and Nick sliders, first pitch, so I was sitting on that a little bit. I was sitting on a pitch I could hit hard."
Porter was then pulled for closer Trevor Hildenberger, who, in his second straight game of work, got left fielder Hunter Simmons to send a roller to short, where, fittingly enough, Campbell took the ball himself and tagged second to end the game and ensure the series win.
"I would say I was more disappointed than pissed," Porter smiled, talking about being removed just one out away from his first career complete game. "I wanted it. I wanted it bad, but that was the right move to go to Trev."
As soon as Porter walked off the mound, his slightly-miffed expression changed to relief as he was high-fived by the dugout.
"You get into that competitive mode, and you kind of black out a little bit," Porter said. "You want it, but I was fine once I got off the mound. You can't be disappointed with that."
As expected, the Bears will throw sophomore righty Ryan Mason on Sunday in the series finale against Utah at 12 p.m. at Evans Diamond, against sophomore righty Bret Helton (2-2, 2.76 ERA). In 32.2 innings of work, helton has struck out 26 and walked 13, allowing opposing hitters to bat a paltry .205 against him – the lowest BAA of Utah's regular starters.
"It's gone great, when you go starter-to-Hildenberger," said pitching coach Mike Neu, whose bullpen has gotten quite a bit of rest thanks to Porter and freshman Daulton Jefferies, who went 7.1 innings in Friday's opener. "That helps us a lot. It's nice to be able to have some options in the pen tomorrow. We can go to Mason and maybe get him back in that role. He's built up a little bit from Cal Poly. We pitched him four-plus innings there, knowing that this could be an option for us, and we're trying to find our best combination. Hopefully, it works out. This will be a good opportunity for him."
BSB: Campbell Wins it in Eighth
BearTerritory.net Top Stories
Bear Republic Podcast: Previewing UtahJames Durrant of UteZone.com joins the Bear Republic Podcast to talk about Troy Williams's running, Lowell Lotulelei's absence, and more as California readies to host No. 23 Utah.
Kaufman Focused on Utah Offensive LineCal defensive coordinator Art Kaufman is impressed by Utah's offensive line, but Cal may have a leg up in terms of scheme.
FILM: Singleton, Robertson Put on a ShowBERKELEY -- Cal wide receivers Demetris Robertson, Brandon Singleton and Jordan Veasy turn in some big highlights during Tuesday's practice.
BearTerritory.netYesterday at 10:55 PM
BTTV: Practice UpdateUpdates on Cal practice from Memorial Stadium as Vic Wharton returns.
BearTerritory.netYesterday at 4:42 PM
Go Premium With BearTerritoryMany visitors are surprised with just how much they get with a BearTerritory.net subscription. Here's the low-down...
BearTerritory.netYesterday at 2:07 PM