LOS ANGELES -- Devon Rodriguez sat on his haunches in the corner of the dugout, eyes down. He had come up with one out and the tying and winning runs on base in the top of the ninth against USC. While Rodriguez has developed a reputation for coming through in the clutch, this time, he struck out swinging on four pitches. While his wasn't the final out of the evening – that dubious honor belonged to a groundout to first off the bat of Lucas Erceg -- it was emblematic of the struggles that California dealt with in a 2-1 loss to USC on Friday night.
Head coach David Esquer was visibly – and audibly – frustrated. His postgame talk with his team was, to say the least, more intense than usual.
"Our program's going to be able to win that game," Esquer said. "Last Saturday's game against Oregon State, and tonight's game, we're going to win that game before this year is up, and we're going to win that game consistently next year. That's going to be the turning point for us. We're going to [expletive] win that game consistently, next year."
The Bears (19-25, 7-15 in Pac-12) rapped out seven hits and drew five walks, with one batter hit by a pitch, but left a staggering 12 runners on base against the Trojans, wasting a sparkling outing from freshman righty Daulton Jefferies.
"That's definitely one of his best starts," said pitching coach Mike Neu. "He's been pretty consistent. I think he's done a good job in almost every outing. He was commanding all of his pitches. I think his breaking ball, he threw some cutters and curveballs that were really good, and some change ups. He's probably getting closer to those pitches being really, really dominant for him, and he showed flashes of what he could be if he's got them all working, which is obviously really tough to beat. That was right up there with one of his best."
Jefferies went 8.0 innings, scattering six hits while striking out six and walking none, needing just 102 pitches.
Jefferies really only made three big mistakes – all against center fielder Timmy Robinson, who was the only USC hitter to tally more than one hit on the night, going 3-for-3 with a run and an RBI, accounting for half of the Trojans' hits.
"He did a good job; you don't want to take anything away from him," Neu said of Robinson. "He hit the ball hard three times, but [Jefferies] left a couple pitches up to him. He left a breaking ball up for a base hit up the middle, he left a cutter up that he hit in the gap with the wind blowing out that way. He's strong. He's a physical hitter. Then, the last pitch, it was a fastball away and he got it up in the air. He's strong. I wouldn't say they were terrible pitches, but they were up in the zone. They were mistakes, but he did a good job hitting them."
The Bears had pulled ahead early against starter Wyatt Strahan in the top of the second, with a one-out single from Brenden Farney -- spelling freshman Robbie Tenerowicz at second base – and then a two-out walk from right fielder Brian Celsi -- returning from shin splints which caused him to miss last weekend against Oregon State. Senior Mike Reuvekamp -- the erstwhile shortstop, playing catcher for the first time in a college game after coming in as a catcher two and a half years ago – then drew a five-pitch walk from Strahan to load the bases for freshman Aaron Knapp.
The first-year outfielder had struck out looking in the first inning, and was looking for a little get-back against Strahan. He got just that, skulling the third pitch he saw right back through the box for an RBI single.
Cal could not keep the run carrousel going, though, as Devin Pearson struck out swinging at a breaking pitch in the dirt, leaving the bases loaded.
Strahan went 7.0 innings, scattering five hits and four walks, striking out eight and never facing trouble after the second inning.
"Strahan has been like that a lot, this year, where you've got to get him early, because he'll give you something early," said Esquer. "By about the fifth and sixth inning, he tends to just rely on his off speed stuff, which is pretty good. He hopes early on to try and find that fastball, and if he doesn't, he'll give you some bases, like he did for us."
Jefferies made the run stand up for the next three innings, allowing one hit and nothing else, getting a nifty leaping grab from shortstop Derek Campbell on a liner off the bat of Jake Hernandez in the bottom of the second.
In the bottom of the fifth, Jefferies gave up a slow hopper to short off the bat of Blake Lacey, a ball which Campbell came in to charge and barehanded. Campbell, however, wasn't able to make the play at first, and the play was scored an infield single.
The next batter – the defensive wunderkind Dante Flores -- sent a grounder to first, but his speed prevented the double play, effectively putting a faster runner at first for Robinson, who came in with team-highs in extra-base hits (13) and RBIs (28). With Jefferies' attention split between Robinson and Flores, he left an 0-1 pitch up, which Robinson crushed into right center, tying the game up.
After striking out Omar Cotto Lozada, Jefferies left his first pitch up to redshirt freshman Reggie Southall, and Southall obliged by sending a hot shot up the middle. Farney was able to make a diving stop, but couldn't do anything else with the ball as Robinson came home to score what turned out to be the winning run.
"He got beat on two balls that didn't even leave the infield," Esquer said. "Two infield grounders and a triple. He doesn't have to be any different. We have to be different around him and be able to support him. It's on the road, coming to USC and a Friday night performance that's all you can ask."
Jefferies lowered his ERA to 3.36, and saw his record drop to 2-6, while Strahan moved to 5-4.
Cal and USC (26-20, 14-11) square off again at 2 p.m. on Saturday, with senior lefty Kyle Porter taking the hill against sophomore righty Brent Wheatley (4-1, 2.98 ERA).
Reuvekamp will likely not be at catcher on Saturday, since it's a day game after a night game.
"I thought it gave us great energy, and allowed us to threaten the running game a lot more than we had in recent history," Esquer said. "First time catching, you can be pretty sore for a day game after a night game, so we'll monitor him. It was a neat dynamic for us. We haven't had that. He's had a broken hand forever, so we haven't really been comfortable that he'd be able to absorb 100 pitches from a pitcher, but he looked good there, and created some openings in our lineup for some guys – the [Vince] Bruno's and the Celsi's and all of those guys, who can now play a little bit."
BSB: Bears Squander Another Jefferies Gem
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