The first-year hurler out of Moraga (Calif.) Campolindo needed just 89 pitches to get through 8.0 innings, scattering six hits and one walk while allowing just one run to lower his ERA to 2.05 and improve his record to 3-1.
“There was no reason to really extend him at this point, and we’re still looking for guys that we can go to when it’s 4-1 in the sixth or seventh inning,” said head coach David Esquer, who used sophomore righty Alex Schick for a 1-2-3 ninth. “We just haven’t established that, and really are not there yet, if there’s two guys on with a three-run lead, we don’t know who’s going to come in for us there.”
Ladrech faced the minimum in six of his eight innings, thanks in part to three double plays, two started by freshman shortstop Preston GrandPre. Ladrech also got 12 groundouts to just eight fly-outs on the day, and despite being a more pitch-to-contact pitcher, much like Saturday starter Ryan Mason, was much more effective at getting weak contact on the ground.
“If we throw strikes, I think we’ll be just fine,” Ladrech said. “If you locate down in the zone, pitch to weak contact, you’ll get hit on the ground. We put the ball in play on the ground, we really like our defense behind us. It’s a faceless opponent. There are certain things here and there, but you pitch to contact, shoot the knees and force weak contact, I’m going to like our chances every time we go out. No matter who’s been in the middle of the infield, Preston’s been unbelievable. I think he turned two double plays today, unbelievable turns, especially the one Preston took himself, and threw to first. Preston, Robbie [Tenerowicz] and Max [Dutto] have been playing unbelievable, so far.”
Ladrech faced the minimum through the first four innings – thanks to two twin-killings and a runner gunned down at second by catcher Mitchell Kranson, setting the stage for the Bears (12-3) to break out for three runs in the bottom of the fourth.
Sophomore third baseman Lucas Erceg sent the second pitch he saw from Cougars starter Tyler Abbott on a line over the wall in right center for his third home run of the season.
“My first at-bat, he was going away, away, and then he came in, and that’s the pitch I swung at, and in the second at-bat, they went away with the change up, so I figured they might go in again,” Erceg said. “I was thinking that, guess the pitch, I saw it and let it go.”
After Erceg made it around the bases, Chicago State coach Steve Joslyn tried to get the home plate umpire to reverse the call, on account of Erceg’s bat being dented.
“I have a dent on the inner half of my barrel – it’s just a dent from the Duke guy [Mike Matuella],” Erceg said. “I think the coach was trying to call it an out, but the umpire said, ‘Hey, I’m not going to change that call, but I will take the bat away.’”
Erceg had bee playing with that bat – and hitting well over .400 with it – since the start of the season, so he hadn’t retired it, as the rules proscribe.
“It’s been the bat that I’ve been using since the beginning of the season, and I’d been hitting well with it, so I figured I’d keep going.”
After Erceg’s circuit shot, designated hitter Brett Cumberland worked a walk, and was sacrificed over to second by Chris Paul, but a fielding error by third baseman Andy Gertonson allowed Cumberland to reach third, and Paul second. Abbott’s second pitch to Dutto was a curve in the dirt, kicking to the backstop and allowing Cumberland to score. A sacrifice fly by Kranson to left brought home Paul to make it 3-0, Cal.
In the top of the fifth, Ladrech walked leadoff man Gertonson, who was sacrificed to second an then singled to third, before riding home on a Chris Hipchen low line drive single up the middle for Chicago State’s only run.
The Bears answered back in the bottom of the frame, with a leadoff bunt single to the right side by Aaron Knapp and a butcher boy single to center off the bat of the hero of the two previous nights -- Brian Celsi.
A sacrifice fly by Erceg brought Knapp home to get the lead back up to three.
From then on, Ladrech was nigh-unhittable, allowing two one-out singles in the sixth before retiring the next eight hitters in order.
“Once we got to the fifth and the sixth, I got into a little rhythm,” Ladrech said. “I kind of started working inside a bit more, mixed in the breaking ball, and I was just throwing the whole arsenal at them. We got into a rhythm, we were getting ahead, just like previous starts, and you get ahead, the results will look better. If you don’t it’s going to be worse.”
“He’s kind of learning the contact game at the college level,” Esquer said of Ladrech. “He’s learning where the zones are where he can stay and be successful. He missed a couple times in the sixth inning, where the ball was up a little bit on missed pitches, and they got base hits. They were difficult to play, in the sense that they’re really aggressive, and unpredictably aggressive.”
Cal plated four more runs in the bottom of the sixth to finish off the scoring in a rather unconventional fashion. Dutto led things off by taking a curveball to the back, but was erased on a bunt by Kranson. Three pitches into second baseman Robbie Tenerowicz’s at-bat, Kranson was nearly back-picked off at first, but while the throw beat him, he was called safe. Tenerowicz took one more pitch over the heart of the plate for a called strike, and then took a curve up and away for ball four, but the first base umpire waved off the pitch, saying it was a balk.
By rule, Cal was allowed to choose which to take – the balk, or the walk. The Bears chose the walk, and had two men on with one out. A grounder to deep short by GrandPre was bobbled, loading the bases for Knapp, who sent a single under the glove of diving first baseman Matt Schmidt, bringing home two runs. Up next was Celsi, who took a six-pitch walk, with the sixth pitch – a fastball down and in – kicking away for a wild pitch, allowing another run to score. Erceg then sent a hot shot to first, where Schmidt was just able to knock the ball down and step on the bag, allowing a fourth run to score and giving the Bears the final 8-1 margin.
• Celsi was moved into the second spot in the order on Sunday to replace injured Devin Pearson, who will undergo tests on his forearm and wrist on Monday to determine the extent of his injury.
• Cal next faces Pacific in Stockton, Calif., on Tuesday at 6 p.m. The Tigers are 1-13 on the season, having just won their first game of the year, 11-8, against Cal Poly at home.