“He’d been struggling the whole year, and it’s good to see,” head coach David Esquer said of Celsi, who came into the game hitting just .231 with no extra-base hits. “The reality is, when you’re going good, all the pitcher seem like they were tonight. The better at-bats they can have when they’re feeling good, bodes well for the future for us.”
“I don’t know what it feels like,” said Celsi, who sprinted to second before his first dinger got over the wall. “I’ve just been trying to really hit the ball harder, trying to be more of a force, get good pitches, get better pitches, driving the ball, not necessarily letting the pitcher dictate. I want to dictate at-bats, and that’s what I tried to work on. It worked out tonight.”
Chicago State (2-9) coming to town turns out to be perfectly timed, as No. 8 Oregon comes to Berkeley for the Pac-12 opening series.
“I expect them to come out and play much better,” Esquer said of the Cougars. “Baseball is baseball. Tomorrow, we could come out and hit a buncy of balls right at people, and they could find a couple holes, and all of the sudden, we could be in the seventh inning, and it’s 2-2. Then, you’ve got to find out what you’re made of at the end of the game, in a game that you feel like you should have in-hand. To have a game like this is good, and we would love it if we could come out the next two days and be this comfortable and be efficient and do the same thing we did tonight.”
Cal (10-3) won its fifth straight game, and ninth of its last 10, as Celsi equaled the program record for RBIs in a game (8, held by Dan McInerny, Brian Horwitz and Brett Jackson), going 3-for-5 with two runs scored. This is also the second game in which the Bears have scored 11 or more runs, and the third time this season. Cal downed San Francisco 11-0 on Monday.
“We’re clicking well right now,” said Celsi. “It’s not even about us putting up the runs. It’s the approach, it’s the way we’re going about the game. Scoring in five or more innings in both games, that’s huge. We’re just clicking really well this year. Everyone that has a role knows what role it is, and there’s no separation like there used to be. It doesn’t matter, it’s whoever’s in, is in. We’ve got their back. It’s exciting.”
Junior right fielder Devin Pearson broke out for a 3-for-4 day, with four runs, two RBIs, two doubles and a home run, after coming into the game hitting .261.
“We need to get him comfortable,” Esquer said of Pearson. “What he’s got to do is zone in. He puts so many balls in play – you can see that from his low walk numbers – he’s got to be more disciplined on what balls he does best with.”
Sophomore starter Daulton Jefferies went 7.0 strong innings, scattering five hits and allowing three runs – one earned – with two walks and six strikeouts.
Every single Cal starter had at least one base hit, while seven players had at least two hits, including Trevin Haseltine. The right-handed pitcher got his second game of action this season, and hasn’t even thrown an inning. Instead, he’s done work at the dish, getting his first two college hits as a pinch hitter, going 2-for-2 with a run and an RBI.
“I’ll tell you what, he’s kind of fearless,” Esquer said. “He’s got tremendous strength. You never know when you’re going to find the next Chad Bunting, the guy that you just don’t expect, who’s just a fearless hitter, doesn’t think too much, and has some ability. He’s got great hand-eye coordination. We’re still hoping he can help us with that arm, and he’s working on his way there, but with our numbers down a little bit, this year, I felt like maybe we could give him the chance to swing the bat a little bit, when you see the power that he has and the strength that he has.”
Sophomore Lucas Erceg turned in two scintillating plays at third base, to go along with a 2-for-3 day at the dish, with two runs, two RBIs and two doubles.
BLOW BY BLOW
After Jefferies fanned two in the top of the first – giving up an infield single – the Bears got a leadoff triple from speedy Aaron Knapp -- his ninth hit in his last 13 at-bats – and then cashed that in on a double to left center off the bat of Pearson, who took third as the ball was bobbled at the warning track.
Pearson rode home on a bases-loaded walk to Chris Paul, but Cal couldn’t capitalize on a one-out, bases-loaded situation, when Nick Halamandaris struck out looking, and Max Dutto rolled into a double play.
“We struck out and hit into a double play, and the one thing that makes them dangerous is, they swing,” Esquer said. “They swing a lot, and they can find holes. If you’re aggressive, and you swing, you’ve got a puncher’s chance, so we’ve got to respect that in the next couple days.”
Cal looked ready to waste another big opportunity in the bottom of the third, after Chicago State put two runs on the board thanks to a Jefferies balk and a two-out RBI single from third baseman Andy Gertonson, but instead plated six runs to take a commanding lead.
“It was big, because you’re not quite sure how it’s going to turn out,” Esquer said. “Things are coming pretty easy for us in the first inning, and we didn’t put them away in the first, so when you play an opponent you don’t know much about, and maybe one that doesn’t come in with a big name, and you’re not sure how they’re going to play, you don’t want to let those opportunities slip too often.”
Pearson walked to lead off the bottom of the third, and rode home on a hanging curve that Erceg banged into right center field.
A walk and a single later, the bases once again were loaded for Halamandaris, who sent a jam shot groundout to first to plate a run, but not the big blow the slugging lefty could have delivered. Dutto walked to once again load the bases, and a Preston GrandPre sacrifice fly to center put the Bears up, 5-2.
Celsi then hammered a second-pitch fastball up from starter Dillon Engle high into the night – seemingly too high -- and it just drifted over the right field wall for a three-run shot – his first collegiate home run -- to break the game open.
“I didn’t know,” Celsi said. “It was really cool, and to finally join the club, it’s a pretty good feeling. I was looking for something bit just to score the runner from second, and I got a fastball up and, hey, it went over.”
Pearson led off the fourth with a double off the left center field wall, just two feet shy of a roundtripper, and rode home on a line-drive double from Erceg into left center to make the score 9-2.
“I’d felt like I’d been swinging the bat pretty well, but I’ve been chasing bad pitches,” Pearson said. “It was good to get pitches that I wanted to hit, and put them in play.”
A one-out first-pitch double by Paul plated Erceg, and was followed swiftly by a rolling single to right from Halamandaris to score Paul, going on contact.
Two batters later, Celsi cued a single through the hole between short and third, driving home another run and putting the Bears up, 12-2.
Pearson led off the bottom of the fifth by rattling the first pitch he saw off the Matt Luke mural on the wall of the RSF in left field, his first home run of the season.
“I think I hit the first one better, but I just found the right part of the yard for the second one,” Pearson smiled. “They were throwing a lot of curveballs up to me, so I tried to see them up, got them right in the zone, and hit them.”
And after Jefferies allowed a run in the top of the seventh by way of two walks, a hit batter and a single by pinch hitter Quinton Alexander, Cal exploded for eight runs in the bottom of the frame, highlighted by Celsi’s grand slam.
“Second one, I was looking for another pitch up, trying to get a base hit to put them in, and, again, it went over,” Celsi said. “I’ve got to give it up to my teammates too, for getting on base and creating havoc.”
Before Celsi drove home four with his drive, Cal got RBI singles from pinch hitter Mitchell Kranson and Haseltine, before Dutto sent a roller to first for what looked like a double play. Instead, the throw from first baseman Chase Matheson went wide to the bag at second, allowing Dutto to reach, and Kranson to score.
GrandPre followed with an 0-1 flare down the right field line to score pinch hitter John Soteropulos, and then Celsi commenced with the yardwork.
Converted catcher Jesse Kay tossed the final two innings, allowing one hit and striking out three.
The Bears continue the series on Saturday at 6 p.m., at Evans Diamond, with Ryan Mason (2-0, 2.00 ERA) set to take the hill for Cal.