BSB: Bears Stave Off Late Rally, Win 11-6

Cal stayed in a tie for first place with No. 9 UCLA, and is now off to its best start under head coach David Esquer -- even better than the 19-6 run the Bears went on to start the 2011 College World Series season.

No. 14 California kept pace with No. 9 UCLA on Saturday, downing Utah 11-6 to stay in a first-place tie with the Bruins, but it was far from easy. The Utes scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth to turn a boat race into a dogfight, but left fielder Mitchell Kranson -- a catcher and corner infielder by trade – made a stretching, diving grab on a liner to the left field corner by A.J. Young to get the Bears out of what was a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the final frame.

At the dish, Kranson cooled a bit, going 1-for-5 with a double and a run, but once again, it was Lucas Erceg providing the big blows, as he continued his hot hitting with a 2-for-6, three-RBI day, including a double and a home run for Cal (20-5, 7-1 in Pac-12), which is off to its best start since David Esquer became head coach in 2000, including the 2011 College World Series season, which started 19-6. Cal has not lost a series since the first weekend of the year, when the Bears dropped two of three to Duke (19-8).

Erceg got things going with a two-run shot – his fourth in his last five games – with no outs in the top of the first off of Utah starter Dalton Carroll, who had dealt a full-count walk to Aaron Knapp to lead off the frame.

Erceg responded to the Utes’ two runs in the bottom of the first off of starter Ryan Mason with another clutch knock, coming up with an RBI double in the top of the second, after Nick Halamandaris -- aboard via a leadoff single – scored on a Knapp ground out to third.

Mason moved to 4-0 on the year with a tough-slog 5.0 innings of work, allowing eight hits but only three runs – all earned – with one walk and three strikeouts, and one hit batter. The junior righty gave up a single and hit a batter in the bottom of the second, and gave up a single in the third, before striking out the final two batters of that inning, holding Utah (8-17, 2-6) at bay.

The Utes scratched across another run in the bottom of the fourth, when a bunt single by Josh Rose cashed in a leadoff triple to right center by Wade Gulden, but Mason – normally a groundball pitcher – got the next two hitters to fly out to end that frame.

Mason’s battery mate – freshman catcher Brett Cumberland -- sparked a two-out rally in the top of the fifth, taking a dose on the second offering from Carroll and moving to third on Kranson’s first-pitch double to left.

Junior Brian Celsi -- who’d gone 0-for-9 over his previous two games – emphatically ended that skid, shooting a single through the left side on the first pitch he saw from Carroll to plate both Kranson and Cumberland, giving the Bears a commanding 6-2 lead.

Sophomore Robbie Tenerowicz -- starting his first game since Feb. 22 at second base – led off the top of the sixth with a walk, but was erased at second on a bunt by his double play partner, shortstop
Preston GrandPre. Knapp stepped up and took one for the team off his ankle on a 1-1 pitch from Carroll, spelling the end for he junior righty.

The Bears’ leader in stolen bases, Knapp, Esquer told BearTerritory, was “sore, not hurt.”

Erceg stepped up against reliever Hunter Rodriguez, and on the first pitch he saw, sent a grounder back to the box, moving GrandPre and Knapp over into scoring position. The Cal hitter to last win the Pac-12 Player of the Week before Erceg snagged the honor -- Chris Paul then obliged with a 1-0 single through the right side to drive in two, pushing the lead to 8-3.

Meanwhile, sophomore righty Alex Schick cruised through the sixth and the seventh, allowing two singles, but nothing else. In the sixth, Schick got a little help from Celsi, who took advantage of a wide turn at first on a one-out single by Hunter Simmons, hosing the sophomore first baseman at first with a back-handed ankle tag from Paul completing the play.

Schick also faced the minimum in the bottom of the eighth, after Cumberland sent a two-run double to right to plate Paul and Sean Peters, who pinch-ran for Knapp after a one-out single up the middle.

GrandPre tacked on a run in the top of the ninth, plating Grant Diede with a single up the middle – his first hit of the day (he went 1-for-5 with 2 runs) – but in the bottom of the frame, Schick finally ran into some trouble. The big righty walked the first two hitters he faced in 9 pitches, then allowed a 2-1 single to left off the bat of second baseman Kody Davis -- who had a 2-for-4 day at the dish after a 2-for-4 day in the series opener – to load the bases.

Cody Scaggari then stepped up with a single to right to get the run carrousel going, keeping the bases loaded and chasing Schick.

Soft-tossing senior lefty Chris Muse-Fisher came on, and fell behind Dallas Carroll 2-1, before allowing a single up the middle to plate another run. Junior Wyler Smith worked a 3-1 count, and then sent a slicing drive into right field, but Celsi was able to make a running, over-the-shoulder grab at the warning track to limit Smith to a sacrifice fly, instead of a bases-clearing double.

Muse-Fisher then struck out Bowen Ortega on five pitches, before Kranson made the game-saving play in left for the final out.

The Bears return to action at 2 p.m., MT, in Salt Lake City, looking for their second straight road conference sweep, behind freshman lefty Matt Ladrech.


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