BERKELEY -- California sophomore righty Daulton Jefferies didn’t need much offensive support on Friday against 2014 College World Series participant UC Irvine, as he struck out a career-high 10 batters in 7.0 innings of work, but he got it in the first inning, as the Bears rapped out five straight hits to lead things off against Anteaters starter Elliot Surrey for a three-run first. Cal tacked on three more runs over the next five innings en route to a 6-1 victory.
“They did a good job hanging around. He’s a good, quality left-hander. Sometimes, they come out a little strong, they’re amped up a little bit and they throw through their sink, they throw through their change up, and you’ve got to get them early, and we did,” said head coach David Esquer. “If you let a guy like that settle down, he’s tough to score on, tough to beat.”
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The Bears (3-2) withstood a late onslaught by Irvine (0-4) in the eighth and ninth, as the Anteaters loaded the bases with no outs in the penultimate frame before reliever Dylan Nelson struck out the side to escape the jam. Irvine loaded the bases again with two outs in the ninth on a walk and two singles before Nelson induced a fly out to right field by powerful freshman Keston Hiura to finish things off.
“We’ve competed against coach [Mike] Gillespie teams for a lot of years, and they’re not going to let you feel comfortable with a 6-1 lead in the eighth inning,” Esquer said. “We didn’t, for the last two innings. They gave us trouble.”
Jefferies’ evening started off a bit rocky, as he allowed a two-out double to Grant Palmer, and then uncorked a wild pitch, allowing Palmer to reach third, before taking advantage of the cold night air to get a fly out to center to end the threat.
“Sometimes, he’s forcing the action for the strikeout a little bit,” Esquer said. “I think he’ll find, as he moves along, when he just moves towards getting them out, the strikeout will just come. The counts will come, and it’s time to go for the strikeout. Sometimes, I thought he was maybe forcing the action to try to get a swing and miss on a 1-1 or an 0-1 count, when you can just get them out, throw your pitch and get a ground ball and get them out.”
The Bears took advantage of some early adrenaline on the part of Surrey, stringing together five straight hits to start the game, including an RBI double to right center off the bat of Monday’s hero Brett Cumberland, and a pair of back-to-back run-scoring doubles from Lucas Erceg and Devin Pearson to take an early 3-0 lead.
After allowing a single to Chris Paul to put men on first and third, Surrey buckled down and retired the next nine hitters in a row, while Jefferies needed some defensive help over the first three innings, including a heads-up play by Paul with two outs in the top of the second, taking a swinging bunt off the bat of Cole Krueter, just out of Jefferies’ reach, and feeding the sophomore righty at first to end the threat.
“It’s amazing,” Jefferies said, of pitching with a lead. “Irvine’s a great team, they look to hack at everything, and just be patient, so it’s good to get that leverage and that momentum going.”
In the top of the fourth, Jefferies hit a groove, striking out the side on 16 pitches, using both his exploding fastball and swing-and-miss curve to great effect after a mid-inning adjustment from pitching coach Mike Neu.
“My adrenaline was kind of going, and I was leaving pitches up, and in the fourth inning, Mike and I talked about that I maybe wasn’t making adjustments,” Jefferies said. “I tried to stay smooth, down and over the top of the ball, and get guys to roll over and use my defense, as much as possible.”
From the fourth inning on, Jefferies struck out eight of the 15 hitters he faced.
“I wasn’t really thinking about striking guys out; I was just thinking about making quality pitches,” Jefferies said. “You just learn how to, instead of throwing, you pitch. You hit your spots and let your defense works, and if it ends up being a strikeout, then great.”
The Bears added a pair of runs in the bottom of the frame, starting with a two-out RBI double by sophomore second baseman Robbie Tenerowicz that was cashed in by a first-pitch single up the middle off of Surrey’s plant foot by freshman shortstop Preston GrandPre. Junior designated hitter Grant Diede then sent an 0-1 pitch up the line at third, where third baseman Palmer uncorked a wild throw in the dirt to second to try and get a sliding GrandPre. The ball sailed into right field, moving GrandPre to third. Aaron Knapp then squared to bunt at Surrey’s first pitch, but pulled back in time to see the ball go down and in, skipping to the backstop and allowing GrandPre to score.
“He held us in check, so those two runs were big to add on,” Esquer said of Surrey, who gave way to Alonzo Garcia for the final two innings, during which Garcia allowed no hits and two walks, with two strikeouts. “He’s a quality left-hander. He had under a 2.00 ERA last year.”
Jefferies hit a speed bump in the top of the sixth, allowing a two-out solo home run on a two-steam fastball to designated hitter Andrew Martinez, but that was the one real mistake he made on the night, as he scattered five hits and one walk.
“It was a two-steam that didn’t two-seam,” Jefferies smiled. “So, he hit a tank. I threw him inside the pitches before, and he took them, so I’m guessing he made an adjustment. It stayed straight. If it would have two-seamed, it would have went under his bat, but it didn’t, and he hit a bomb.”
Even with that shot, though, this was the best Jefferies has felt since his first two wins last season.
“I felt really relaxed, and just in the zone,” Jefferies said. “Hopefully, we can take this into tomorrow.”
Cal got that run back, though, in the bottom of the sixth, without even the benefit of a hit. Tenerowicz led off with a four-pitch walk, and moved to second on a bunt to third by GrandPre, a bunt that was fielded by Palmer and then thrown wide to first, pulling Mitchell Holland off the bag, allowing both runners to move into scoring position. Knapp then delivered a sacrifice fly to center to finish off the scoring. Palmer committed two of Irvine’s three errors on the night.
“The game just kind of came to him,” Esquer said. “We really didn’t know much that he was a poor defender, at all, but the game and the situation just kind of came to him, and, lucky for us, he had trouble with a couple balls.”
Jefferies allowed a leadoff single to the left side by Jerry McClanahan in the seventh, but then got a groundout from Holland before striking out the last two batters he faced.
Jordan Talbot came on for the eighth, but Nelson was already warming in the pen, after Nelson came in having allowed three runs on two hits and four walks in three appearances, all without recording a single out.
Talbot promptly surrendered a leadoff single to Mikey Duarte and then hit Palmer, prompting a quick hook.
“A real short leash,” Esquer said. “He’s not been good, and that’s a spot that we can’t afford to not have, because you really don’t want to use a Dylan Nelson in a 6-1 game to save for two innings. You want to get someone else in there who can get six outs, and let’s get on to the next game. That was a shame.”
Nelson got two strikes on Hiura, but issued him a free pass to load the bases, before debuting a new, heavier slider with some more tilt on it than his previous sweeper to great effect.
“I’ve been working with Mike on the side, trying to get out in front, and throwing the ball more downhill, mostly working on the fastball and trying to stay over the slider,” the senior righty said. “It just made everything sharper.”
He fanned Martinez on a swing-and-miss slidepiece, then got Wyatt Castro looking on the slider before going to the inside corner to catch McClanahan looking and strike out the side.
“We’re up 6-1, I need to protect Daulton’s lead and pound the zone,” Nelson said. “It worked out pretty well. They couldn’t hit it. I was just trying to find barrel, and hoping that I got three outs before they scored five runs.”
In the top of the ninth, Holland reached thanks to an error by Erceg at third – a wild throw on a grounder that was saved by Paul at first – and Nelson fanned the next two hitters before allowing two straight singles to once again load the bases.
While Nelson said he desperately wanted to fan Hiura to end the game – getting ahead 1-2 – he settled for a fly out to right to end the game.
“We’re probably a little short without Keaton [Siomkin, on the shelf with Tommy John surgery], because that’s a perfect time for Keaton to come in, and you can save the back end of your bullpen a little bit, so that’s not good news for us, but Dylan did a nice job,” Esquer said.