Cal Athletics

Cal senior Brenden Farney, after not playing for 21 months, lifts the Bears to a season-opening win with a 2-for-4 day against Duke

Cal gets big pitching from Daulton Jefferies and closer Erik Martinez, while Brenden Farney returns in a major way for the Bears, as he pops two doubles to fuel a 5-2 season-opening win for No. 8 Cal baseball.

California infielder Brenden Farney hasn't played in a college baseball game in 21 months. Thanks to a fluke arm injury while throwing infield that led to Tommy John surgery, Farney -- who led the Bears in hitting as a junior -- had to sit out all of last season, and all of the past two summers. He didn't waste much time getting back in the swing of things, with two doubles, an RBI and a run scored as No. 8 Cal opened the 2016 season with a 5-2 win over host Duke.

"Oh, man, it felt like some money," Farney said of his first hit of the day -- a game-tying double that was also the 100th hit of his college career. "I was just so happy to be back on the field."

Farney finished the day 2-for-4 with two doubles as part of a 10-hit attack that backed up a 6.0-inning, 9-strikeout performance from starter Daulton Jefferies and a 1.2-inning, 5-strikeout save from sophomore Erik Martinez for his first save of the season.

"He just missed a third [double], when a guy caught one at the fence, earlier in the game, but that's big for us," head coach David Esquer said of Farney. "We're looking to solidify that middle of the order, and he's been hitting in practice. It was good to see that he was where he needed to be for the game." El Gaucho, Mitchell Kranson, had two throwing errors at third, but went 1-for-4 with a run and a key opposite-field RBI double off the top of the Blue Monster at the Durham Bull Athletic Park in the top of the sixth, off of 6-foot-5, 210-pound junior right-handed starter Bailey Clark, who played on the Collegiate US National Team with Jefferies this summer. That double was followed by Farney lining a 3-1 offering from Clark -- who was hitting 98 mph with his fastball early in the game -- into the left center field gap to trade places with Kranson, tying the game at 2-2.

"I've never been in a situation like this, before," Farney said. "I'm hitting in between Kranson and Cumby [catcher Brett Cumberland], and those are two of the best hitters in our conference. I get to be the meat of the sandwich. They've got to show me everything that they're going to throw to Kranson, and then, they've got to throw me some strikes, because if they walk me, they've got to face Cumberland. It's a win for me, and those two guys are the main reason why."

The Blue Devils had taken an early 2-0 lead in the third, by wearing Jefferies, much as they did last season, when the Atwater (Calif.) Buhach Colony product threw 103 pitches in 4.2 innings of work against another highly-projected MLB Draft prospect in Mike Matuella.

Jefferies gave up a third-inning leadoff double to Eric Dougherty, and after striking out third baseman Max Miller (his fourth of nine strikeouts on the day), induced a roller to third off the bat of Ryan Day. Kranson charged in to field the ball, but his throw was off line to Farney at first, going up the right field line, and allowing Doughergy to score.

Jefferies then got a swing-and-miss strikeout on right fielder Peter Zyla, but the ball, up and in, went by sophomore catcher Brett Cumberland. Trying to recover from the passed ball, Cumberland threw to first, but pulled Farney off the bag, putting runners at the corners.

Designated hitter Jack Labosky -- who later came on to pitch 1.2 innings of relief -- then sent a 2-0 grounder under the glove of a diving Preston GrandPre and into left for an RBI single.

Cal got two men on in the top of the fourth, but Halamandaris swung and missed at an off-speed offering from Clark to end the threat.

Farney very likely saved a run in the bottom of the fourth, when, after catcher Cris Perez sent a fly ball double down the right field line, the former middle infielder charged a bunt off the bat of Zack Kone and threw Perez out at third.

Two batters later, Jefferies fanned Griffin Conine -- son of two-time World Series champ Jeff -- to end the frame.

In the bottom of the fifth Jefferies himself showed off his middle infield pedigree, barehanding a bunt off the bat of Day and firing to first for the out, just one batter after racing over to cover first on a nubber out in front of the plate by Miller. Head coach David Esquer was worried that he'd hit the bag wrong, but instead, Jefferies said, he'd been stepped on. But, no harm, no foul, as he not only completed the inning, but also made the eye-opening play in front of the plate in front of several scouts.

"If the scouts ever questioned his athleticism -- and they don't -- that answered it for them, right there," Esquer said of Jefferies, who at one time played shortstop in high school, and was originally recruited as a two-way player.

Clark looked to be humming, fanning both GrandPre and Robbie Tenerowicz in the fifth, and retiring speedy Aaron Knapp to lead off the sixth. But, he then hit right fielder Devin Pearson, setting the stage for Kranson and Farney.

After giving up the double to Farney, Clark exited for Labosky, who retired the next two batters to end the inning.

Clark was saddled with his second straight no-decision against the Bears, after he made his first career start Feb. 15 last season at Evans Diamond, allowing two runs over five innings. This time out, Clark threw 5.1 innings, allowing four hits and two runs -- both earned -- with five strikeouts and one walk.

Jefferies got into a spot of trouble in the bottom of the sixth, walking two of the first three batters before going up the ladder with a fastball to K Kone, and then snapping off a curve to get Dougherty swinging to work out of the jam.

The Bears took the lead by cashing in a one-out groundball triple by senior Brian Celsi in the top of the seventh, thanks to a parachute single to center off the bat of GrandPre.

Cal scored two more in the top of the eighth off of freshman Kellen Urbon, with a fly ball double to the warning track by Farney and a seeing-eye infield single by Cumberland setting the stage for an RBi single from Halamandaris, who finished the day 2-for-4.

With Celsi at the plate, Urbon ran an 0-1 offering up and in, glancing off the mitt of Perez for a passed ball, allowing Cumberland to trot home easily for the final tally.

After Bears reliever Keaton Siomkin gave up a jam-shot flare single to right by Zyla, and walked Labosky, Martinez -- who made an appearance on the NCBWA Stopper of the Year Watch List -- came on, using a nasty slider to fan Perez, and then punching out Dougherty on a full-count, bases-loaded heater to get out of the eighth.

"I had the same scenario against Texas A&M last time in the Regional, so it kind of brought me back," Martinez said. "I looked in the dugout, the guys were pushing for me, and it wasn't easy, but when you've got those guys behind you, it makes it a lot more doable."

It was a familiar setting for Martinez. The last time he was on the mound, he had a one-out, bases-loaded situation, and he got out of that just fine.

"I've thrown in that situation, so I wasn't thinking too much about it," said Martinez. "We had a good lead, Keaton did a great job holding them, and I just figured I needed to try to get outs as quickly as possible. I got behind on the first batter, and on the next, and I was trying to get a ground ball for a double play, but ended up getting strikeouts, so I'm happy with that."

Martinez got a called strike three on pinch hitter Jimmy Herron with a called fastball on the inside corner, then fanned Miller on a change up down and away and finished the day by getting a foul tip into Cumberland's mitt off the bat of Day. 

Martinez got strikeouts on all of his pitches, something that was a good notch on the first-year closer's belt.

"It feels good, and it builds a lot of confidence, when you can get guys out with every pitch, and both kinds of strikeouts," Martinez said. "I've been working a lot with [first-year pitching coach] Thomas Eager, and he's done a great job. I think he's done a great job with the pitching staff, as a whole."

On Deck

Cal squares off with the Blue Devils again on Saturday at Durham Bull Athletic Park, with senior righty Ryan Mason going up against lefty Trent Stewart, who missed all of 2015 with Tommy John surgery, but sported a 5-2 record with a 1.76 ERA in 2014. The Bears take the field at 10 a.m., Pacific.

With Pearson's shoulder still a bit tender, he played designated hitter on Friday, moving Farney to first and Halamandaris to left. Halamandaris had one diving attempt on a ball, but he won't major in that. Esquer said that all the Bears need him to do is to stand under a few fly balls until Pearson is ready to return to full, active duty. Until then, the alignment will remain the same, but Esquer says the Bears will "play it out" with possibly Denis Karas getting a shot against Stewart, as the lineup will take on a decidedly more right-handed flavor. Top Stories