“It sure did look like [a Sunday malaise], but our guys were trying,” said head coach David Esquer. “Closing somebody out is an acquired team skill. You don’t just show up to the park after being up 2-0 or 3-0 and just win. They were fighting like hell, Irvine was fighting like hell, with their backs against the wall. They were going to give it their best effort.”
The Bears (5-3) saw their four-game winning streak squelched, as freshman lefty Matt Ladrech took his first collegiate loss, going 4.1 innings and allowing four runs – all earned – on six hits and one walk, while striking out two.
“I wasn’t getting ahead of guys,” Ladrech said. “I got behind guys 3-0, 2-0, and I didn’t do as well a job of getting ahead of hitters and putting that doubt in their mind, and not letting them sit on a certain pitch. Stuff-wise, I was alright. Command wasn’t there. If I get ahead, it’s a different idea.”
Ladrech followed up his 7.0-inning, shutout performance against Stanford on Monday with a so-so effort on Sunday, allowing two hits in a 24-pitch first-inning that saw the Bears fall behind 1-0 on an RBI single off the bat of freshman outfielder Keston Hiura, who drove in four of Irvine’s six runs on the day with a 2-for-4 performance t the dish.
Cal had an opportunity to get that run back – and more – in the bottom of the first, when junior lefty Evan Manarino -- who won three straight games in the playoffs in 2014, including the College World Series opener against Texas – walked slugging catcher Brett Cumberland, then surrendered a line-drive single over second baseman John Brontsema by Lucas Erceg. With two outs, Manarino intentionally walked Chris Paul -- who came into the game hitting .414 – in favor of facing designated hitter Grant Diede.
Manarino got ahead of Diede 0-2 thanks to a nifty curve on the outside corner, then went at Diede with fastballs, getting the junior to swing and miss to end the threat.
Cal left five more men on base over the course of the game, and went just 3-for-14 with runners on base, and 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position.
“I thought our effort was good, but I thought we were a little bit underwater, it looked like, in the first three innings,” Esquer said. “We had runners in scoring position, and one was in a contact situation. If you show them a breath of life, you don’t know how the opposition will react.”
Ladrech allowed two more hits – but no runs – in the top of the second, prompting Cumberland and Irvine shortstop Mikey Duarte to have a heated exchange when Duarte stepped to the plate to lead off the top of the third.
“It’s gamesmanship,” Esquer said. “They relay pitches in, if they’re able to pick pitches from the pitcher, and it’s just baseball. If they can steal your pitches, they’re going to do it, and that’s just the way it is.
“I don’t know how much they had out of the stretch or the wind up. I know at second base, they were relaying some signs, when the shortstop was at second. I know the three hitter got a base hit up the middle when they had a runner at second.”
“You don’t like to point fingers or anything, but if they were, that’s part of the game,” said Ladrech. “We’ve got to do a better job of hiding our stuff, we’ve got to do a better job. On my part, I’ve got to do a better job of not showing. Out of the stretch, I’m definitely open. I like to think I do a pretty good job, once I lift my leg. It’s a tough thing in the game, in the heat of the moment, to put your finger on it while you’re out there.”
Irvine used small ball to continue to eek out ahead of the Bears, moving Adam Alcantara -- aboard on a leadoff double – to third in the top of the fourth, and cashing him in on a sacrifice fly to center off the bat of Andrew Martinez.
Ladrech finally gave up the ghost in the top of the fifth, after a walk to Mitchell Holland and a sacrifice bunt attempt by Duarte, before the Anteaters shortstop got buzzed up and in by Ladrech, taking a pitch on the forearm as he squared around for another bunt attempt. On the day, Irvine showed bunt with seven hitters, and laid down three successful sacrifices and one bunt single.
After Duarte reached, Grant Palmer bunted him over to second, spelling the end for Ladrech. Sophomore Alex Schick came on in relief, and saw his second offering deposited over the center field wall by Hiura for a three-run shot.
“Those are the small little things that add up, and that’s kind of the nature of the game,” Esquer said. “Even if we minimize and hold them to one there, it could be a different game, late in the game, here.”
Schick retired the next two hitters, but got into more trouble in the top of the sixth, giving up a roped shot into left center off the bat of Brontsema (who went 2-for-3 on the day) and a 360-foot single to Martinez that was cut off in right by Devin Pearson, keeping runners at first and third. Brontsema was cashed in, though, one batter later, when a safety squeeze by Parker Coss brougnt home Brontsema, when Schick tried to field the slow roller up the third base line and throw home in the same motion, but wound up leaving the ball in the grass.
Schick then retired the next nine men he faced, before giving way to Erceg, who allowed one hit and struck out one in the top of the ninth, after a 2-for-4 day at the plate. Cal is still looking for a middle relief option that can get out of jams like the one that Schick faced when he entered, and he’ll be in the bullpen for the first two games of next weekend’s four-game set at Arkansas, with the potential to start the third game, if he’s not used. If he is, then Jeff Bain -- who threw 5.2 innings and allowed one run on three hits in a win on Saturday – will take the nod.
“We’re still looking. It didn’t look as explosive as I think it would need to be to put out the fire late in the game, and that’s what we’re looking for,” Esquer said. “I think we’ll wait and see the first two games, have Schick available in the bullpen, and if we don’t use him, we may go to him. If we do have an opportunity to use him, we would probably do the same thing with Bain.”