BSB: Cal Sweeps Kansas State on Ladrech's Arm

Matt Ladrech again impresses, going seven strong innings, but he had some help from his offense, as Cal explodes for five runs in the first inning, and sophomore Aaron Knapp continues to heat up, going 3-for-5 at the dish and scoring three runs.

Since dropping two of its first three games against Duke, the California baseball team has been on a role. With the Bears’ 9-1 win over Kansas State on Monday – a morning affair started by freshman lefty Matt Ladrech, who went seven strong innings – Cal has now won seven of its last eight games, including a 3-1 series win over 2014 College World Series participant UC Irvine, and an 11-1 thrashing of preseason-ranked Stanford at Sunken Diamond -- a game started by Ladrech.

Ladrech out-performed the Bears’ expectations, throwing just 82 pitches in 7.0 innings of work, scattering seven hits and one walk, while striking out two and allowing just one run.

“We felt like it was a pretty good match-up for him, and that’s why we started him,” said pitching coach Mike Neu. “They were really aggressive, especially against [Ryan] Mason, who’s kind of a sinkerball/contact guy, typically, and his pitch count was really low [Sunday], so we felt like Ladrech would be a good match-up for them. We were thinking maybe he would go five and we could go to [Jeff] Bain, who, I think, has also earned a spot to pitch, and they’re battling it out, maybe, for who’s going to start in those situations. Ladrech probably could have kept going.”

Ladrech recorded 12 groundball outs, upping Mason’s total of 9 from the day before, as he pitched to contact and allowed his infield to take care of things.

“He did a great job pressuring them, getting ahead of those guys, and they made a bunch of early outs,” Neu said. “Their only run was, we mis-played a bunt, and otherwise, he probably could have shut them out for seven. It was still a great job by him, and we needed that game. That was a big sweep for us.”

Later in the year, that’s a game that the staff probably lets Ladrech try and finish, Neu said, but given the fact that the Bears wanted to get some work for the bullpen -- each Cal starter this series went at least 7.0 innings, with Mason throwing 84 pitches and Daulton Jefferies 92 on Saturday – and the early stages of the season, Neu put the kibosh on that.

Alex Schick and Jesse Kay each tossed a scoreless, hitless inning, with Kay allowing one walk, and each struck out one.

The Bears stormed out to a 5-0 lead on Kansas State, led by the white-hot Aaron Knapp, who continued to light up the box score, going 3-for-5 with three runs at the top of the lineup, a day after he went 3-for-3 against the Wildcats.

“Our hitters have taken the pressure off of us, giving us that early lead,” said Neu, who’s seen the Cal offense outscore opponents 15-5 in the first innings of games this season. “it’s way easier to pitch, and our guys have done a really good job with that.”

Knapp led off the game by poking an infield single to the hole at short, and moved to second on a Devin Pearson single through the right side. Lucas Erceg, Brett Cumberland and Chris Paul then punched three straight groundball singles through the infield, putting the Bears up, 3-0. After a walk to Max Dutto -- starting at second in place of an injured Robbie Tenerowicz -- and a strikeout, the scoring began anew, with freshman Preston GrandPre driving in his sixth run of the season, and Mitchell Kranson rolling an RBI groundout to second that scored Paul.

“We’re up 5-0, 20 minutes into the game,” Neu said. “If you give Ladrech a five-run lead, with his ability to throw strikes and throw his change up, it really allows us to attack, with his stuff. That was big. I think that takes the pressure off us, too.”

After two straight bunt singles to lead off the sixth inning, Ladrech was able to induce a double play grounder off the bat of catcher Danny Krause, but an RBI single to designated hitter Steve Serratore spoiled the shutout.

Knapp once again keyed a rally in the bottom of the sixth, singling with pinch runner Denis Karas on first to put two men on for Pearson, who went 2-for-3 with three RBIs the night before. Pearson laid down a bunt that was mishandled by reliever Jackson Douglas, allowing Pearson to reach third, and both runners to score. Pearson would then ride home on a foul ball to right field by Cumberland.

Knapp also singled through the right side with one out in the bottom of the eight, moved to third on a double down the right field line by Pearson, and scored on a sacrifice fly to center off the bat of Erceg to finish off the scoring in the bottom of the eighth. Knapp came into the series hitting .257, but is now 6-for-8 over the past two games, lifting his average up to .349, and his on-base percentage up to .392.

“He had a great last couple days, and I think one of the things that jumped out to me was that he’s hitting leadoff, and we need him to get on base more than he was getting on base,” Neu said. “He obviously did a really good job of that the last two days to set the table. That was big. If he can get on base, obviously him putting the ball in play just pressures the defense, especially if he can hit it to the left side. He shot some balls through the infield, got an infield hit today, and it’s just hard to throw him out, when guys have to move side-to-side to field the ball with him. I think he’s doing a better job of getting his pitches and getting on base, and that’s what we need from him.”

NOTEBOOK
• Tenerowicz was on the shelf this weekend due to a wrist injury, which, given the fact that – again -- the season is still young, allowed Cal to rest the high-ceilinged sophomore all weekend without any ill effects.

“He feels like he can play, and he’s played through it a little bit the last couple weekends, but as a staff, with him and our medical staff, we just felt like it was a good weekend to get him the full weekend off,” Neu said. “We need to make sure he’s ready for the full season, and not do any more damage. He should be fresh, ready to go for next weekend.”

• Senior outfielder Brian Celsi was scratched from Sunday’s lineup, and was held out on Monday because of leg cramps.

• Cal played errorless ball for the second straight game, and have committed just two fielding miscues in the last five contests, following a three-error game in a 10-3 win over UC Irvine.

• The top three hitters in the lineup each recorded multi-hit days, with Knapp, Pearson and Erceg combining to go 7-for-12 with six runs scored, two RBIs, one double, one walk and one strikeout.

ON DECK
Cal next sees action on Wednesday at 6 p.m., hosting the University of San Francisco (1-10), before playing host to Chicago State this coming weekend. Freshman righty Jeff Bain will make the start against the Dons.

“We were planning on splitting that game today, and once we got a big lead, we decided to hold back Bain, so he just threw a bullpen today,” Neu said. “He’ll throw, and he’ll start that game, and we’ve got a pretty fresh pen. Erceg didn’t throw over the weekend, so we’d like to get him an inning in there, and Dylan Nelson will be hot, and Chris Muse-Fisher, so we’ll pretty much have a whole bullpen, and we’re just trying to keep guys fresh, and get them work. It’ll be good. I hope we can keep this thing going, because I think we’re set up the way we want to be.”


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