BERKELEY -- For the final two innings of No. 14 California’s tilt on Saturday against rival Stanford, former Cal football commit Zach Hoffpauir punished the Bears, going 2-for-2 with two three-run home runs, leading the Cardinal all the way back from a 6-1 deficit to tie Cal at 10-10.
After a two-out double by Nick Halamandaris in the bottom of the ninth, though, head coach David Esquer reached into his bench and plucked Friday night’s starting pitcher Daulton Jefferies -- a one-time Stanford commit -- to pinch run. Enter: Redshirt junior Brian Celsi.
After going 0-for-3 on Friday with runners on base, the Bears right fielder ramped the third pitch he saw from reliever Gabe Cramer off the mound and into center, bringing Jefferies hard around third.
Jefferies may have slid just a little bit early – barely having enough steam to get to the plate – but get to the plate, he did, as the throw from center sailed high, sending the entire Cal bench spilling onto the field and giving the Bears a much-needed 11-10 win, sending 1,248 fans – including the entire 1980 College World Series team (with an appearance by Oakland A’s manager Bob Melvin) here for their 35th reunion.
“It was huge,” Celsi said. “It wasn’t only huge for me. It was huge for the team. We needed that one.”
“He went up, I went down, and I’ve still got a little base runner in me,” said, who returned to the starting rotation on Friday after missing a month with biceps tendonitis. “Last time I saw second base was probably fall of my freshman year, when I was still a two-way guy.”
Jefferies was on a pitch count on Friday, and wasn’t able to get the win he so craved over the Cardinal, but scoring the winning run against the team that turned him aside was especially meaningful.
“It was surreal,” Jefferies said of the 14 runs scored in the final two innings. “I loved it. A big adrenaline rush.”
Cal (22-10, 9-5 in Pac-12) now heads into Sunday with Matt Ladrech heading to the hill in search of its first series win since the road set against Utah from March 27-29.
“It brings us real hot. It gets our swagger back, our traction back,” Celsi said. “We’re not going to roll over. We’re not going to roll over like we normally do. You can punch, but we’re going to punch back. We haven’t been doing that lately, but we did it tonight.”
The Bears rattled off 17 hits, more than Cal had tallied in the last two games combined, with every starter tallying at least one base hit and Celsi going 3-for-5 with two runs and that all-important RBI.
“I was just looking for something up,” Celsi said. “That moment’s been getting way to big. It’s been speeding up on me, so I controlled my breathing, looked at the top of the foul pole, saw something up, and I got something. It was awesome. It found a hole, and Daulton looked athletic as hell. Without Nick setting the table, though, it wouldn’t have been a walk-off. It was awesome. It was cool.”
Celsi came into the game on a personal 3-for-14 skid, while the Bears had lost four of their last five games.
“That was big for him, coming off of yesterday, when he had those opportunities and didn’t get it done,” Esquer said. “I know he took it personally, he took it hard, and that’s a big one. No shame in that game. You obviously don’t want to give up nine runs in the last two innings, but we did, and you have to deal with it. That’s the way you have to deal with it.”
The Bears entered the ninth inning up 10-4, with closer Dylan Nelson on the hill, but the senior righty allowed the first four men to reach – with an RBI single by Tommy Edman mixed in – before allowing a cue shot up the middle for a two-run single by Beau Branton and then a high drive over the right field wall on his first offering to Hoffpauir.
“To see the six-run [lead] crumble was fine,” Celsi said. “We picked Dylan up, and we were going to pick Dylan up, but to end it that way, to kind of get back on track, 16 hits, 11 runs, it’s nice.”
BLOW BY BLOW
Stanford (13-19, 1-10) gave Cal fits in the first inning, much as the Bears have dealt with over the last two first innings, coming up with two one-out singles – including an RBI knock by Edman – to take a quick 1-0 lead against junior starter Ryan Mason, but Mason clamped down, retiring 9 of the next 11 hitters and giving his offense room to work.
“Our guys came out with a little attitude today, and I knew it was just a matter of time,” said Esquer.
In the bottom of the third, Aaron Knapp got his second straight hit, roping a single into right center with two outs. Knapp stole second on the first pitch to hot-hitting Mitchell Kranson, who then took a dose in the foot from Cardinal starter Tyler Thorne two pitches later, setting the stage for a struggling Lucas Erceg.
Cal’s top hitter had just one hit in his last 19 at-bats, but came up big with a two-run double down the right field line on the first pitch from Thorne.
“I think that was huge,” said hitting coach Brad Sanfilipo. “It was huge, especially for him. He came back from Utah, with the series that he had at Washington and the series that he had at Utah, and I felt like, whether he put added pressure on himself to carry us, maybe, when maybe as a whole we weren’t as hot as we had been, I think he kind of put that pressure on himself to try to do it all himself, and I think once he got that double, it lifted it off his shoulders a little bit. I think it eased all of us, a little bit.”
Senior first baseman Chris Paul -- who left the game in the top of the sixth due to a strained hip flexor – then deposited the third pitch he saw from Thorne to over the wall, just to the left of dead center, giving Cal a 4-1 lead.
The Bears plated two more runs in the bottom of the fourth, with Celsi once again in the midst of the action. Following a leadoff single from Halamandaris – who went 2-for-5 with a run – Celsi squared to bunt, then pulled back and sent a flare to center for a single, but because of the height of the ball, Halamandaris had to hold between first and second until the ball hit the turf, and barely made it into second safely on a throw from center fielder Jack Klein.
Second baseman Max Dutto squared to bunt twice, before going down to get a 1-1 slider and rolling a single into right, plating Halamandaris for the sixth hit in two innings off of Thorne. Shortstop Preston GrandPre sacrificed Celsi to third, and he came around to score on a fly ball to right off the bat of Knapp to make it 6-1, Bears.
Mason got through the sixth unscathed, but in the top of the seventh, Klein reached on an error by GrandPre, who threw wide of first and down the line on a grounder to short, with John Soteropulos manning the first base bag.
Mason then left a 2-2 pitch up to catcher Alex Dunlap, who sent a fly out to Knapp in left center, allowing Klein to tag up at second and reach third. Mason was able to strike out shortstop Drew Jackson looking at a pitch on the outside corner on his 87th pitch of the night, before being pulled by pitching coach Mike Neu, who called for sophomore righty Alex Schick, who needed 15 pitches to throw a shutout inning the night before.
Schick came in hot, catching Mike Diekroeger looking at a curveball for strike three to end the inning.
Stanford reliever Chris Castellanos -- who’d thrown 2.1 scoreless innings up to that point – retired Cal in order in the bottom of the seventh on just five pitches.
In the top of the eighth, Schick walked Edman, then balked him over to second, before walking Matt Winaker and advancing both runners into scoring position on a wild pitch. He was promptly pulled for Nelson, who, after striking Branton out on a looping slider, gave up a three-run opposite-field homer to right off the bat of Hoffpauir, who had lately missed 23 games with an injured wrist.
“You don’t want to leave a guy out there to do that, but give their guy credit – he’s coming off a hurt wrist and hits two homers to right field at our park,” Esquer said. “I guarantee you, tomorrow, during the day, that ball won’t go out.
“There’s been moments where he’s been going really good, that I’ve thought, ‘He was thisclose to being in our outfield, but that’s the way things go.”
Nelson allowed a two-out double to Klein before striking out Dunlap to finish off a seven-pitch at-bat and the inning, but the damage was done. The Cardinal had narrowed the gap to 6-4.
The Bears, though, answered right back, loading the bases with one out against Castellanos, with Celsi reaching on a line-drive bunt that sailed over both Castellanos and second baseman Edman, who had to sprint to catch up to the ball after moving over to cover first when Celsi first flashed bunt.
“Luckily, I got away with that one,” Celsi said. “Off the bat, I’m like, ‘Uh oh.’ We got away with it, and Sean Peters comes up big in that inning for us. We had a lot of good things going for us today, and it was good to end it on a high note.”
Peters came up with a two-run single to right center, following a run-scoring infield hit from GrandPre and a run-scoring fielder’s choice by Knapp, after which Knapp stole second to put two men into scoring position for the speedy Peters.
The Bears would have had another run, were it not for Erceg taking a wide turn at first after rapping a single up the middle. Erceg got caught in a run-down between first and second, trying to buy Peters time to score, but instead, was tagged out before Peters crossed the plate.
“That’s the second double he’s hit in a big spot, or it was a single,” Esquer said. “He hit a double off the wall in Utah, and I think, the crazy thing is, Erceg makes that base running mistake, we’re not even going to let Nelly go out there, necessarily. We thought, if one more hitter would have hit, Erik Martinez would have been loose, and we would have started the inning with Martinez, but because Erceg made out so quick, Martinez wasn’t loose, so we sent Nelly back out. Then, we thought, if he gets the first guy out, we’ll go to Martinez.”
Nelson wasn’t able to do that. Taking the hill in the ninth, Nelson had a comfortable six-run lead, but a high throw to first by Lucas Erceg on a grounder to third by Jackson, then a single through the right side by Diekroeger set the stage for Edman, once again, who sent a hard grounder to the right side. Dutto ranged far to his left, but could not get his feet set and threw just a hair late to first, allowing a run to score. Nelson then walked Winaker to load the bases for Branton, who cued a two-run single up the middle on a pitch at the letters, bringing Stanford within three. Hoffpauir went yard, tying the game, before the Bears went to lefty Chris Muse-Fisher.
“It would have been Muse-Fisher earlier, but Nelly’s our closer, and the numbers didn’t dictate that they were going to score six runs in an inning,” Esquer said. “Obviously, we’re playing young and first base, and Erceg makes that play to lead off the inning, which is an out. We don't get an out, just because of inexperience at first. He probably played it a little off the bag a little early and jumped a little higher than he needed to. Chris Paul has just been so good at staying low and being high enough.”
The soft-tossing southpaw struck out two of the next three hitters he faced to stop the bleeding, setting the stage for Celsi’s heroics in the bottom of the frame.
Pinch hitter Grant Diede cracked a single up the middle past a diving Jackson at short, but after he was pinch run for by Devin Pearson -- coming back from a broken hamate bone – freshman catcher Brett Cumberland rolled into a 4-6-3 double play.
Halamandaris took a called strike on a breaking ball, then drove the next pitch he saw into the left field corner for a double, after which he was pinch run for by Jefferies.
“When the guys measured it out, he was our next fastest guy,” Esquer said. “We’d already used Peters, we’d already used Pearson. We know we needed to score on a base hit. Halamandaris wasn’t going to score.”
Three pitches later, Cal came out on the winning side.
“Brad said, ‘On contact, you’re going,’” Jefferies said. “I opened up my secondary lead, got a little bit more, and I tried to run as fast as I could.”
“It’s culture change, man. It’s tough,” Celsi said. “It’s really tough, and we’re not putting the finger on anyone. It’s tough to go in and out of a 60-game season, and have a winning attitude, win or lose. It’s tough. Luckily, this year, we’ve been competitive, and we’ve won some games that we should have won. We’ve lost some games, but who cares? We’re 22-10. We’ve got to keep on pushing.”
“There were so many things today that we needed to do to loosen our guys,” Esquer said. “I was really paying attention, and I thought, you win a lot of games, you put yourself in position and do that and you hope your team comes out and plays confident and looser. I thought the last two weeks, we’ve played tighter. I think we needed to loosen up a little bit. For some guys to have some offensive performances today, hopefully, it’ll loosen them back up.”