LOS ANGELES -- After leaving the tying and go-ahead runs on base in the bottom of the ninth on Friday, California first baseman Devon Rodriguez wasn't about to let anything get by him on Saturday against USC. With his mother in the stands, the redshirt senior slugger delivered one hell of an early Mother's Day gift, going 3-for-5 with two home runs and six RBIs, leading the Bears to a resounding 11-4 win over the Trojans at Dedeaux Field, evening the series at one game apiece, with the rubber match set for Monday at 1 p.m.
"We didn't play great, but it was just one of those games that was going to go back and forth – who was going to keep giving a little something to the other team – and our guys did a good job of staying on top of it," said head coach David Esquer. "The last night and the last two games have been rough for [Rodriguez], and he took it hard last night. I know he took last night's game very hard. I know a lot of our guys took it very hard. It's not about effort; it's more about execution and just being able to come up in the big spot and play in that moment. It is not about whether they care or they are working or trying hard, but a lot of try-hard doesn't necessarily get a lot done."
Rodriguez's fifth and sixth home runs of the season led a hit parade of 11 base knocks for Cal (20-25, 8-15 in Pac-12), which left just two runners on base – a stark contrast to the dozen stranded runners the night before.
"I came out with a little vengeance after last night," said Rodriguez, who looked for all the world like someone killed his dog after failing to drive home the game-breaking runs the night before. "I wasn't very happy. I feel a lot better, just happy we got the win. Hopefully, I can top it tomorrow, but if not, this is my mom's early Mother's Day present."
Rodriguez came into Saturday's game hitting .310 with two outs, and, fittingly enough, all six of Rodriguez's RBIs came with two outs, with the first three coming on one swing of the bat in the top of the third. After a chopper over the third base bag for a double by Devin Pearson and a walk to catcher Mike Reuvekamp, Rodriguez came up and sent the third offering from starter Brent Wheatley over the right field wall for a three-run homer.
The Bears nearly gave those right back, though, in the bottom of the frame, as an errant throw by shortstop Derek Campbell pulled Rodriguez off the bag, allowing A.J. Ramirez to reach, and an attempted sacrifice bunt by Reggie Southall was botched on the defensive side, as Reuvekamp's throw to second was dropped by Campbell.
With two men on, third baseman Kevin Swick sent a cue shot to the right side over a leaping Robbie Tenerowicz with the runners in motion to plate the Trojans' first run of the day. Lefty starter Kyle Porter was able to stop the bleeding, though, getting a pop out and a fly out on six more pitches to end the threat.
Cal added another pair in the top of the fourth against Wheatley, kicking things off with a hard grounder up the middle for a single by Campbell. Left fielder Vince Bruno skulled a long fly ball to the right field corner, which went in and out of Ramirez's glove with Campbell running on contact. With runners now at the corners, Tenerowicz delivered a sacrifice fly to left, and Pearson delivered an RBI groundout to short, giving the Bears a 5-1 lead.
Porter got into some more trouble in the bottom of the fifth, when Southall led off the inning by pinballing a hard liner off of the senior's hip for an infield single. Porter then dealt four straight balls to Swick and fell behind 2-1 to Blake Lacey, before the left fielder laid down a sacrifice bunt to third.
With two men in scoring position, Porter fell behind designated hitter Jeremy Martinez 2-1, before the freshman out of Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei sent a sacrifice fly to right.
First baseman Jake Hernandez followed that up with a hard line drive right through the glove of third baseman Lucas Erceg to pull USC to within two runs.
"He did a good job of managing it and minimizing the runs, but then we missed the line drive at third and now it's 5-3 and then it's a game," Esquer said. "Any inning that they build naturally is going to make the game tight and close, and you're going to have to be able to withstand that."
Porter allowed a walk and an RBI double by Dante Flores before being yanked in the bottom of the sixth, in favor of Dylan Nelson.
After giving up a sacrifice bunt to Omar Cotto Lozada and walking Southall on six pitches, Nelson struck out Swick and got Lacey to fly out to shallow center to limit the damage.
"After the game got to 5-4, with runners at second and third, a big hit there, who knows where that puts us," Esquer said. "Our guys just came back and kept adding on, and took advantage of what they gave us, because they gave us a little bit, too."
The Bears scored two runs in the top of the seventh, thanks to a leadoff walk by Tenerowicz that was cashed in on a flare single to left off the bat of freshman Aaron Knapp off of reliever Marc Huberman. Huberman exited after just one batter for submarining left-handed reliever James Guillen, but after missing away to Reuvekamp, he fired wide to first trying to pick off the speedy Knapp, sending the fleet freshman all the way to third, where he was waiting when Rodriguez stepped up to the dish. With a 3-1 count, Rodriguez delivered a line drive single to left off of sophomore lefty Sean Adler to drive in Knapp and give the Bears some breathing room. Rodriguez advanced to second on a wild pitch, and then scored on a Brenden Farney soft liner to right, making the score 8-4 in Cal's favor.
"He fell behind, and I knew he didn't want to walk me," Rodriguez said. "It's a situation where he's got to come at me, and he was a left-handed pitcher I could handle."
Reliever Trevor Hildenberger came on to finish things off, tossing 3.0 scoreless innings of relief, allowing two hits and one walk but striking out six of the 13 hitters he faced – more than all other pitchers in the game (on both sides) combined.
"He's got such a good fastball, that when he can get ahead, if he gets to two strikes, it's lights out," said Reuvekamp, who went 1-for-4 with two runs and an RBI at the dish. "He had everything working: Fastball, change up, slider. He was lights out today."
Hildenberger's fastball sat between 88 and 90 for much of his three innings of work, and featured a lot of downward movement that put some pressure on Reuvekamp's recently broken hamate bone.
"My thumb was feeling it," Reuvekamp smiled from beneath twin smears of eye black no worse for wear after catching a day game after a night game. "I was trying to readjust it a little bit after that first inning. "He was looking really good today."
Reuvekamp came up with an RBI single of his own in the top of the ninth against reliever Brooks Kriske, and was followed by a towering two-run shot from Rodriguez that just snuck over the wall in right to finish off the scoring.
"I was seeing it really well at that point," Rodriguez said. "I knew that any strike, I was hopefully going to be able to hit hard, and I was able to do that."
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