Cal (7-3) has now won six of its last seven games since dropping the season-opening series to Duke (7-1), and got another solid starting pitching performance from junior righty Ryan Mason.
Though the 6-foot-7 sinkerballer didn’t match his 12-strikeout season debut against the Blue Devils, he still notched his second victory by going 7.0 innings, allowing five hits, one run and one walk while striking out one. Instead of relying on swings and misses, Mason got nine groundball outs, and served up one double play for his infield.
Sophomore leadoff man and center fielder Aaron Knapp came into Sunday’s contest hitting just .257, but went 3-for-3 at the top of the lineup to pace an eight-hit day by the Cal offense.
Knapp deftly set the table for No. 2 man Devin Pearson, who went 2-for-3 on the day with a two-run double.
Knapp scored his first of two runs on the day in the bottom of the first, when, after singling through the right side and taking second after Pearson was hit by a pitch, he advanced to third on a 3-6-3 double play off the bat of sophomore Lucas Erceg.
Freshman catcher Brett Cumberland extended his team RBI lead by singling to left center and scoring Knapp.
The Bears added another run in the bottom of the second, as Cal cashed in an error by Wildcats shortstop Tyler Wolfe that allowed freshman shortstop Preston GrandPre to reach first, with a Pearson single to center.
Mason faced the minimum through the first three innings, and after allowing a one-out single in the top of the fourth, he got some help from Cumberland, who hosed infielder Jake Wodtke trying to steal second to end the inning.
Cal broke out for three runs in the bottom of the frame, starting with a Max Dutto single to right. Dutto – who has reached base five times in his last eight plate appearances -- then took second on an error by right fielder Clayton Dalrymple, and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by GrandPre. Junior Grant Diede then took a dose from starter Colton Kalmus, chasing the redshirt sophomore righty in favor of redshirt junior Kyle Halbohn, who promptly gave up a single up the middle to Knapp – driving home Diede – and a two-run double to left center by Pearson, who was thrown out trying to stretch that double into a triple.
Mason got a little loose coming around turn three in the fifth inning, allowing three straight singles – the third an RBI knock by catcher Tyler Moore -- before erasing Moore on a fielder’s choice grounder to GrandPre and then getting Wolfe to ground into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning.
After a 1-2-3 sixth, Mason allowed a leadoff walk to Shane Conlon in the top of the seventh, but got a pair of fielder’s choice grounders and a groundout off the bat of Moore to finish the frame, and his night.
The Bears added an insurance run in the bottom of the seventh, when Erceg – aboard on a leadoff single – scored on a wild pitch, following a walk to Cumberland and a double play grounded into by Chris Paul.
Freshman righty Erik Martinez came on strong in the top of the eighth, striking out the first hitter he faced before allowing a one-out single, but Martinez got a fielder’s choice grounder and a fly out to left off the bat of red-hot Carter Yagi, but Martinez ran into a spot of trouble in the top of the ninth, walking the bases loaded around two strikeouts before he was lifted for lefty Chris Muse-Fisher. The soft-tossing southpaw uncorked a wild pitch, allowing Conlon to score, before fanning Max Brown to end the game, earning his second save.
Of note on Sunday was the return of left-handed-hitting slugger Nick Halamandaris, who started the game at designated hitter, and went 0-for-3. Head coach David Esquer had predicted Cal would get Halamandaris back this weekend, and his return gives the Bears a powerful option at the DH spot, or off the bench, as they head into Pac-12 play in two weeks against No. 12 Oregon (10-2).
The Bears finish off the series on Monday in a rare 10 a.m. start against Kansas State, with freshman lefty Matt Ladrech (1-1, 3.18) taking the mound for Cal.