For the third time in the last four Pac-12 games at Sunken Diamond, the California baseball team came out with a win over rival Stanford, and did it in dramatic – if unconventional – fashion.
The Bears downed the Cardinal 7-4 in 10 innings, thanks to the clutch hitting of second baseman Brenden Farney, who instead of taking his normal spot on the infield, took over the designated hitter spot, moving senior Devon Rodriguez to first base.
With one out and two men on in the top of the 10th, Farney stepped to the plate against veteran reliever A.J. Vanegas. After taking the first pitch for a ball, the 5-foot-9 sophomore out of Vacaville High School drove home speedy Aaron Knapp from second base to break a 4-4 tie.
"He had just walked Nick [Halamandaris] on four straight pitches, and he started me off with a fastball for a ball," Farney said. "I figured he was going to try and throw me a get-me-over fastball, thinking I was going to take because he had thrown five straight balls. He did just that."
Cal (17-20, 6-10 in Pac-12) wasn't done, though. Farney advanced to second on the throw home, and after lefty reliever Chris Castellanos spelled Vanegas, freshman Lucas Erceg greeted him with a tough six-pitch battle at the plate before sending a two-run single into center. Closer Trevor Hildenberger then worked around two straight singles to lead off the bottom of the 10th by retiring the next three Cardinal hitters, finishing off a tough 3.0 innings of work for his third win of the season.
"We haven't had a Friday win I think since Utah," said pitching coach Mike Neu. "That was big. It gives you a way better chance to win the series, and who knows? Maybe we get the chance to go for a sweep. We'll probably need [Sunday's starter Kyle] Porter to pitch well, because our bullpen is a little thin now, because we used [Dylan] Nelson and Hildenberger. We'll need a big outing from Porter, but [series-opening] wins are big. It gives us a chance to take the series tomorrow."
Farney was the only Bear to tally more than one base hit on the day, going 2-for-5, as Cal rattled off nine hits to Stanford's 12. Shortstop Mike Reuvekamp returned from a broken hamate bone to go 1-for-4 in the series opener.
"It's big, it's big," Farney said of the win. "We're ready to roll."
Freshman starting pitcher Daulton Jefferies toughed out 6.0 innings, allowing four runs – all earned – on eight hits and one walk, striking out three on 100 pitches, but kept the Bears in the game long enough to allow Farney and the rest of the offense to mount a comeback.
"He didn't have his best stuff," Neu said of Jefferies. "I thought his off speed had been better, probably the last couple weeks, but he competed. He did a good job. We just gave up a couple hits when he struggled with his off speed command, but he did a good job."
BLOW BY BLOW
Jefferies worked around a pair of two-out singles in the bottom of the second to strike out sophomore outfielder Drew Jackson looking, with men on first and third on a 3-2 offering.
Cal kept the momentum going in the top of the third, with catcher Mitchell Kranson working a 3-1 walk from starter Cal Quantrill and taking second on a sacrifice bunt from Robbie Tenerowicz. An infield single by Reuvekamp put men at first and third, and the speedy Knapp legged out a fielder's choice that allowed Kranson to score to give the Bears a 1-0 lead.
Knapp then swiped second on Quantrill's first pitch to powerful Derek Campbell, who cashed in the fleet freshman with a 2-2 double down the left field line, putting the Cardinal (17-18, 6-10) down, 2-0.
In the bottom of the frame, Stanford responded, as infielder Tommy Edman worked a six-pitch walk and then stole second, advancing to third on a fly out to right by Brett Michael Doran. An infield single by Danny Diekroeger brought Edman around to score, cutting the lead in half.
Cal added another run in the top of the fourth, once again, thanks to speed. Left fielder Brian Celsi took advantage of catcher Brant Whiting, swiping second, setting the stage for Kranson, who sent the second pitch he saw from Quantrill down the right field line for an RBI double and giving the Bears a 3-0 lead.
Stanford pulled even in the bottom of the fifth, thanks to a one-out single to center by Edman and a triple into the left center field gap by Doran. A line out to right by Diekroeger cut the Cal lead to 3-2, before Jefferies got the dangerous Alex Blandino to fly out to left on a 1-2 pitch.
The Cardinal went ahead by a run in the bottom of the sixth, with a two-out RBI single to center by Whiting cashing in a leadoff single by center fielder Austin Slater. Jefferies then finished off the frame by catching Jackson with the bat on his shoulder once again for a called strike three.
"He kept us in the game, and it could have gotten out of hand, and he made some big pitches with runners on base," Neu said.
Reliever Dylan Nelson then came on and tossed a scoreless seventh, and with one out in the top of the eighth, Rodriguez came up big with a single up the middle against Vanegas to plate Knapp, aboard with a leadoff walk.
Rodriguez moved to second on a single to right by Farney, but a fly out by Erceg and a strikeout by Celsi quashed the nascent ally.
Nelson got into trouble in the bottom of the eighth, as Zach Hoffpauir reached with one out on a throwing error by Erceg. Nelson was then lifted for Hildenberger, who, after allowing Hoffpauir to advance to third on a groundout by designated hitter Alex Dunlap, intentionally walked Whiting before striking out pinch hitter Dominic Jose to strand two of Stanford's 12 runners left on base and keeping the game tied.
Hildenberger went on to throw two more shutout innings, working around three hits and three more walks.
"He's at least cached for tomorrow," Neu said of Hildenberger. "We'll have to evaluate it on Monday, and see if he can make it one hitter or maybe one inning at the most, but we had to go all-out today. It was worth it. You burn him for three and you don't get the win, that can be a tough one, but it made it worth it. He did a good job, made some big pitches. He was in some trouble when we brought him in and did a good job. That was huge."
The Bears next square off with the Cardinal at 2 p.m. on Sunday in the second game of the series, with sophomore righty Ryan Mason (3-0, 2.23 ERA) facing John Hochstatter (5-1, 2.18). With Hildenberger on the shelf after throwing 2.2 innings on Saturday, Cal's next best options out of the bullpen – with Keaton Siomkin out for the year due to Tommy John surgery – will likely be a pair of freshmen in Alex Martinez and Alex Schick.
"I think Martinez would be big," Neu said. "He's been way better out of the pen than he has as a starter, and I think his stuff is good enough to give us some big outs. I think Nelson, we'd have to see if maybe he could come back for an inning, or maybe even a hitter, and then we've got Schick back probably for one inning this weekend. I don't know what situation we'd use him in, but just the way the games are going to go, it's probably going to be a big inning. He threw a bullpen last week and threw to a couple hitters in intra-squad, and looked good, so maybe he can give us a big inning or give us a couple big outs when we need it."
The 6-foot-6 Schick has not thrown since a 2.2 inning relief outing in a 10-5 loss to Tulane on March 7, due to several maladies.
"He had some biceps tendonitis and shoulder soreness," Neu said. "I don't think it was anything that was going to be a huge effect on him, but he's a freshman, and long-term, he's a big part of our plans. His body and the way he is, he's a little more susceptible to injury. He's got a lot of length, and first time in college, pitching more, we just want to take care of him and make sure he's healthy. I don't want to do anything that gets to surgery or anything that would put him out for over a year. We want to keep him healthy and get him on track to be a guy. That was where he was at.
"He started complaining of some soreness in his shoulder, we shut him down for about three weeks and just kind of gradually got him back throwing. His arm came back pretty quick. I think it was the best thing for him. We got a chance to rehab him a little bit, and once he started throwing again, it's been a couple weeks where he's felt pretty good, and he threw a bullpen Tuesday. We threw him against a couple hitters on Thursday and he'll be ready for Sunday or Monday to get an inning. One inning probably this weekend is all we would get out of him, but that could be a big inning at this point for us."
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