Game Two Box
The California baseball team hasn’t won 30 games since the Bears went to Omaha in 2011, but thanks to a doubleheader sweep on Saturday, in between the raindrops at Jim Perry Stadium in Buise Creek, NC, Cal notched wins Nos. 30 and 31 against host Campbell, 4-0 and 9-4, clinching the series after a 5-3 loss on Friday night.
Cal (31-16) did not win its 31st game during that 2011 run to the College World Series until the second game of Regional play, against Alcorn State on June 4, 2011.
The Bears are now tied for the best 47-game record under head coach David Esquer. Cal has won 30 or more games three additional times in Esquer’s tenure: 2008, 2005 and 2001. In 2001, en route to the Baton Rouge, La., Regional, the Bears won their 31st in their 54th game, on May 8. In 2005, Cal turned the trick in its 52nd game on May 9, against Stanford. The 2008 squad – which reached the Long Beach Regional – also won its 31st game in its 47th contest, also against Stanford.
“They’ve got a good chemistry about them,” Esquer said of this year’s bunch. “They really care. They back each other up. They have enthusiasm. The coaches are doing a great job of preparing their positions for all the competition. That’s a pretty good combination of things that are coming together to win some games.”
Junior righty Ryan Mason spun a complete-game shutout in the first game, which was delayed three hours because of a heavy storm.
Mason benefitted from an RBI triple to right field with one out in the top of the second by Preston GrandPre, and then an RBI single from hot-hitting Nick Halamandaris to get out to an early lead, while facing just two batters over the minimum and getting three double plays from his infield.
Mason needed just 91 pitches and scattered 5 hits through his 9.0 innings of work, walking two and striking out one, while holding the aggressive Camels without an extra-base hit.
“He was sharp, and they’re really aggressive, and with him, he creates a lot of contact on the ground,” Esquer said. “He just did a really good job of getting quick outs, getting ahead in the count, and pitching to contact.”
In fact, the 2-3-4 hitters in the Campbell lineup – which went 7-for-11 against ace Daulton Jefferies on Friday night – were held hitless (0-for-11) against Mason, who bounced back from a 10-hit outing on May 2 against then-No. 6 Arizona State.
The Bears tacked on two more in the top of the fifth of the first game, when Robbie Tenerowicz reached on an error, advanced to second on a wild pitch, moved to third on a groundout by Aaron Knapp and then came charging home on an RBI bunt to the right side by Brian Celsi. Celsi then came around to score on an RBI double to right off the bat of Lucas Erceg.
Celsi went 4-for-5 in the two-hole in the second game, driving in two runs and scoring one, finishing the day 6-for-9 just when the Bears needed his veteran presence in the lineup, with Chris Paul on the shelf.
“Like we’ve done all year, when someone’s down, the next Bear up has done a great job,” said Esquer. “Celsi did a fantastic job. He’s been hitting the ball well in practice, he’s been training well, and he’s been doing fine. We’ve been playing lineups, and just going with lineups that had nothing to do with how he was doing. We’ve been trying to play a hot lineup, and he’s been waiting in the wings for an opportunity to get back in there, and he was ready for it.”
Without Paul -- who fouled a ball off his leg against Arizona State, and felt it act up on him on the long plane ride back east – Cal re-engineered the lineup, putting Mitchell Kranson at first base in the opener (he went 0-for-4, but played clean defense), and then moving him behind the dish in the second game, to give freshman Brett Cumberland a break.
Kranson went yard for the second time in two days, leading off the seventh with a solo home run down the right field line – his fourth of the season -- on a 3-1 pitch, answering back after the Camels had scored three run in the bottom of the fifth against starter Matt Ladrech and reliever Jeff Bain, aided by a tough hop that ate up Tenerowicz at second on a grounder from Anthony Lopez -- a would-be inning-ending double play ball.
Kranson’s jack made the score 7-4, giving Bain and reliever Chris Muse-Fisher some room to work.
“It was actually big to answer back after giving up those three runs, two on an error” Esquer said. “They had some momentum. The next inning, they got up quickly, and to score again before they did was a really big answer.”
Ladrech allowed a two-out double to senior first baseman Kyle Leady and then a two-out RBI single back up the middle by junior Cole Hallum to give the Camels a 1-0 advantage in the bottom of the first, and after working out of trouble in the bottom of the second, the Bears tied things up on a Celsi RBI single to left center.
“Freshmen go through those times,” Esquer said of Ladrech, who moved to 7-4 on the season, going 4.2 innings and allowing four runs – two earned – on six hits and three walks. Though his outing wasn’t up to par for his performances the rest of the season, it was still a step up after a disastrous 1.2-inning outing last week. “They lose it and have to get it back, and have to battle through some tough times. He’s no different than any other freshman hitter that we’ve had, who has to get through and come out the other side. He’s doing that right now.”
After a two-run homer by Erceg – his team-leading 10th -- Cal added two more in the top of the fourth, when when GrandPre reached via an error, and was sacrificed to second on a bunt by Tenerowicz. Knapp then sent an 0-2 offering into left center, and Celsi rattled off his third hit of the game into center to score Knapp, giving the Bears a 5-1 lead.
Halamandaris -- who took over first base in the second half of the twin bill -- and went 2-for-5, including a one-out RBI double in the top of the fifth to put the Bears ahead, 6-1.
“He’s been getting closer and closer and closer to being pretty consistent at the plate,” “Esquer said of Halamandaris, who went 5-for-13 on the series, and has gone 7-for-21 over his past six games, since starting the season 15-for-71 (.211), coming back in early March after missing all offseason with a shoulder injury. “He did a nice job filling in for Chris, defensively, in the second ballgame, and Kranson did in the first game. Our team has done a great job of just filling in for each other, and picking each other up, and Halamandaris has been close for a while. He’s getting there, and he’s coming up with some big hits.”
Also on the bounceback trail was third baseman Erceg. After going 2-for-21 against Stanford, Arizona and Fresno State, Erceg has been on fire over the last six games, going 10-for-25 with three runs, six RBIs, two doubles, a stolen base and, on Saturday, his 10th home run of the season – the two-run job that capped off a three-run third inning in the night cap.
That circuit shot came just after Celsi singled home Knapp -- who went 4-for-5 with three runs scored and two RBIs at the top of the lineup, after going 0-for-4 in the first half of the twin bill.
“I think he’s made some adjustments, and he’s made some adjustments to get his swing back to where he wants it, and he’s been getting closer and closer,” Esquer said. “I think it showed up today, where he really looked comfortable. The ball was slowing down for him today, and he put some really good swings on the ball. And, I think he doesn’t feel like he has to carry the whole weight of the team on his shoulders.”
In fact, the entire top half of the lineup did major work in the 9-6 win under the lights, with the first six hitters tallying at least one base hit, and four having at least two base knocks on the game. Each of the first six hitters also scored at least one run apiece.
Cal finishes the home schedule this coming weekend against No. 14 USC and former Bears pitching coach Dan Hubbs, and go into that series having won seven of the last nine games. After that, Cal goes on the road to finish the regular season with a three-game set against Oregon State.
“We’ve got two weekends that potentially are going to be as tough as any Regional or any Super Regional that we would play,” Esquer said. “We’ve got to put the finishing touches on the season, and they’re going to be great ways to measure ourselves.”