“He did an awesome job,” said pitching coach Mike Neu. “I thought his fastball command was really good. He threw probably mostly fastballs, but he threw some change ups. I thought he did a good job going after the lefties, and he threw some pretty good breaking balls, too. He was just solid.”
Jefferies threw 94 pitches and, Neu said, could have gone another inning, but with a 2-0 lead, there was no need to extend the 6-foot, 180-pound ace, who had already made enough high-stress pitches in the early innings against a team that came into Friday hitting .310 – tops in the conference.
The Atwater (Calif.) native stranded a runner on second in the first, stranded two Wildcats in the second thanks to a first-pitch grounder back to the box to end the inning, and stranded another pair of Arizona runners in the third, before his offense finally got on the board.
Cal (24-14, 11-8 in Pac-12) rattled off nine hits on the night, but broke through in the top of the fourth thanks to a wild pitch. Senior first baseman Chris Paul (2-for-4) led things off with a single up the middle, and was followed up by a 3-1 single through the right side by freshman catcher Brett Cumberland. Right fielder Mitchell Kranson then sacrificed both runners into scoring position, and with left fielder Devin Pearson at the plate, Wildcats starter Cody Hamlin uncorked a wild pitch, bringing Paul home and moving Cumberland to third.
After Pearson struck out, following an eight-pitch at-bat, freshman shortstop Preston GrandPre (2-for-4) poked an 0-1 offering from Hamlin to right to drive in Cumberland, and give Jefferies his 2-0 lead over Arizona (24-15, 9-9)
“I think that’s everything,” Neu said of the early lead. “You get the lead, and our guys played outstanding defense. It just takes the pressure off. [Jefferies] feels like he can just make his pitches, and he doesn’t have to do it by himself. I think they’ve done such a great job behind him that I think it takes the pressure off. He feels confident, knowing that he can attack guys with his stuff, and not have to do too much.”
After allowing a one-out double to left fielder Jared Oliva in the bottom of the frame, Jefferies picked Oliva off at second, and then caught Zach Gibbons looking at a called strike three, sitting down the junior outfielder on three pitches.
Jefferies worked around a leadoff single and a sacrifice bunt in the bottom of the fifth, striking out the final two batters to end the frame, and then getting two second-pitch groundouts after allowing a one-out single in the bottom of the sixth.
“It’s obviously a tough park to play in,” Neu said. “It’s a pretty hot field, and I think they’re a good lineup, but he was able to make some big pitches in big spots, and really just neutralized them with his command, and making some pitches with two strikes, and behind in the count. He just did an outstanding job.”
Sophomore righty Alex Schick then came on in relief in the bottom of the eighth, needing just 10 pitches to retire the Wildcats in order.
The Bears added another run in the top of the ninth, thanks to a leadoff double by Kranson.
After a sacrifice bunt by Pearson moved pinch runner Sean Peters over to third, designated hitter Nick Halamandaris -- who went 2-for-4 on the night – sent an RBI double to left, giving Cal a 3-0 lead.
Closer Dylan Nelson came on to pitch the bottom of the frame, but his sixth save of the season didn’t come easily.
“The ninth got a little hairy,” Neu said. “He got the first guy out, made great pitches. The second guy [Oliva], he got ahead 0-2 early, and I think we were trying to get him out with his breaking ball, which is his best pitch. He threw two breaking balls that were in the dirt, probably good pitches, but not exactly where we wanted them. We had a three-run lead, so he threw a fastball to get back in the count, the guy hit a double, we kicked it around a little bit, and he ends up at third.”
Nelson then walked Gibons on five pitches, bringing center fielder Justin Behnke to the plate, hitting .295. Behnke sent a grounder back to the box, Nelson wheeled and fired to second to get the front end of a would-be game-ending double play, but GrandPre’s throw to first just missed Behnke by a hair, and, Neu thinks, could have been called either way. That play resulted in a run, cutting the lead to 3-1.
“We thought the inning was over,” Neu said. “We got the comebacker, he turns it, they called him safe, and then GrandPre makes a great play on the next one to get him out, and we got out of there.”
On the next play, GrandPre went deep in the hole to field a weak grounder, then fired to first to gun down Scott Kingery for the final out, earning Nelson his sixth save, and Jefferies his fifth win of the season. Jefferies moves to 5-2 on the year, while Hamlin drops to 4-3. Hamlin has not allowed more than four earned runs in any game this season, but has only received seven total runs of support in his last four starts. He struck out six in 7.1 innings on Friday night, allowing seven hits.
“GrandPre made a great throw, showed some real arm strength to get him out at first, on a slower hit ball in the hole, but a great play to finish the game,” Neu said. “Easily, the guy could have been safe, and we could have kept going there, but he made an outstanding play.”
Both Schick and Nelson (25 pitches) should be available for another appearance each during the weekend, which continues with a 6 p.m. start against the Wildcats at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson.
Nelson will be evaluated during the day on Saturday to see if he’ll be able to go again, but, Neu said, with a full day of rest, he could potentially go, if need be.
“We’ve got Chris Muse-Fisher still available, and Erik Martinez and Jeff Bain, so I think we feel like we’ve got some bullets still in the pen,” Neu said. “I’m going to assume they’ll both be available, but we’ll evaluate it tomorrow and see where they’re at.”
In that second game of the series, junior righty Ryan Mason (4-2, 3.55 ERA) will be opposed by righty Nathan Bannister (6-1, 3.21).
Bobby Dalbec had a 15-game hit streak snapped. However, he extended his reached base streak to 39 games with a walk … Jared Oliva hit a pair of doubles to extend Arizona’s string of games with an extra base hit to 28-consecutive … For the second-straight game, Wildcat pitchers did not issue a walk. The club has only two other walk-free games this season. Arizona last turned in consecutive games without a loss last season, doing so three games in a row from March 12-15 … Cody Hamlin matched his season high with six strikeouts … Arizona was charged with two errors, its first contest with multiple miscues since April 3 against USC … Scott Kingery posted his 20th multiple-hit game and the junior has reached base in 15-consecutive starts.