Once again without sophomore ace Daulton Jefferies, No 24 California was able to post a Pac-12 win on a Friday night, this time on the road in rainy Seattle, downing host Washington 3-2 behind 6.0 innings from freshman righty Jeff Bain and a clutch eighth-inning home run from sophomore third baseman Lucas Erceg -- his team-high fourth longball of the season.
"It was a great team win for us," said Cal coach David Esquer. "We pitched well and came up with some clutch hits, and none bigger than Lucas Erceg's home run. It is big for us to win on Friday night in the Pac-12."
The Bears (16-5, 3-1 in the Pac-12) cut a little two-game losing streak off at the knees behind Bain, who started his second straight Pac-12 series opener in place of the injured Jefferies – who’s still on the shelf with biceps tendonitis – and scattered 5 hits and two walks over his 6.0 innings of work, with three strikeouts and two earned runs.
In Pac-12 play, Bain is now 1-0 with a 3.65 ERA in two starts, going 12.1 innings, allowing 10 hits and five runs with two walks and four strikeouts, allowing just two extra-base hits.
Cal went with an unorthodox lineup on Friday against the Huskies (13-8, 1-3), leading off with slugging Chris Paul, and moving speedy Aaron Knapp to the No. 2 hole, while former No. 2 hitter Brian Celsi dropped to No. 5. Denis Karas started his third collegiate game, hitting eighth and going 1-for-2 with a run.
Paul grounded out to short to lead off, but back-to-back singles by Knapp and Erceg set the stage for a sacrifice fly to center by catcher Brett Cumberland in the top of the first to get the Bears out to a quick 1-0 lead.
Cal put together a little two-out rally in the top of the second, when Karas took a dose from starter Noah Bremer and then rode home on a triple by freshman shortstop Preston GrandPre -- his first three-bagger of the season.
Up 2-0, Bain hummed along, allowing a double, a hit batter and a walk over the first three innings, but nothing more, as he got the first two hitters in short order in the bottom of the fourth.
Bain then surrendered a Will Sparks single to right, and a Chris Baker single up the middle. Bain then walked catcher Joey Morgan to load the bases for second baseman Levi Jordan. The true freshman – who hit a walk-off RBI double to beat Seattle on March 10 – drove in two with a single to tie things up.
Bain retired the next six hitters in a row, before hitting Sparks and allowing an infield single to Baker – who went 3-for-3 on the night -- in the bottom of the sixth. Bain, though, clutched up and got a grounder to second by Morgan to end the inning, and strand two Huskies in scoring position.
Cal had a chance to pull ahead in the top of the seventh, when second baseman Max Dutto yanked a leadoff double to right center off of reliever Brandon Choate, and moved to third on a one-out groundout to short by GrandPre, but Paul – the Bears’ team leader in batting average, total bases, slugging and on-base percentage – struck out swinging, to end the frame.
Lefty reliever Chris Muse-Fisher then took the ball and after seeing left fielder Matt Jackson reach on an error by GrandPre with one out, got a little help from Cumberland, who hosed pinch runner Kyle London at second for the second out of the inning. The soft-tossing Muse-Fisher then got right fielder Jack Meggs swinging to end the frame.
With one out in the top of the eight, Erceg went yard off of reliever Spencer Jones, who came into the game with a 3.26 ERA in 11 appearances, taking the Mendocino Junior College transfer deep to right field. Erceg had gone 0-for-6 over the previous two games, and had just one hit in his last 11 at-bats coming into Friday’s series opener. He busted that slump with a 2-for-4 night, as the only Cal hitter to have multiple base knocks.
Muse-Fisher allowed just a two-out single in the bottom of the eighth, before giving way to Dylan Nelson in the bottom of the ninth. Nelson – who’d looked very shaky in his last outing in a 3-1 loss to San Francisco – bounced back strong, giving up a leadoff single and a sacrifice bunt before striking out the final two batters swinging to end the game and earn his third save of the season. Muse-Fisher earned the win, and moved to 2-1. Jones dropped to 2-3 on the season.
Sophomore Robbie Tenerowicz pinch ran for designated hitter Mitchell Kranson -- who led off the top of the ninth with a single – for his first action since March 8. He’s been on the shelf with a wrist injury, but finished the game at DH.
Cal next faces the Huskies on Saturday at 2 p.m., at the renovated Husky Ballpark, with junior righty Ryan Mason (3-0, 2.61 ERA) facing off against Washington’s righty Tyler Davis (3-1, 2.86). On Sunday, the Bears will send freshman lefty Matt Ladrech to the mound (3-2, 1.67) against righty Josh Freidenall (2-0, 4.05) at 1 p.m.
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