BERKELEY – After getting off to a slow start in Durham, N.C., with two errors at third and a 2-for-12 opening weekend, California senior third baseman Mitchell Kranson made two crucial plays in the hot corner and capped off a three-run fourth with a two-run double to power a 5-4 Cal win over pesky San Francisco.
“I was not surprised; the games are always like this with USF; I don't care how good we are,” said Bears head coach David Esquer. "We went to Omaha, and every time we played them, it was like this, so not surprised. I think our guys were hoping this would be easier, but it's just not who we are. We're not pressing, at all. We just don't have our rhythm yet, for how we're going to score runs. That will come."
Both Kranson (2-for-5) and first baseman Brenden Farney (2-for-3) notched run-scoring doubles, with both of Farney’s knocks going for two bases, as a seven-hit attack backed the first collegiate appearances of freshmen Joey Matulovich and Aaron Shortridge, the latter of whom, with 3.0 innings of scoreless relief and two strikeouts, earned his first career win.
“Some really good pitches by Matulovich, but some really bad pitches, too” Esquer said. "It was kind of up and down. You'd like to see his misses be a little less big, right now."
One of those misses was a second-inning two-run home run off the bat of Aaron Ping -- an opposite-field first-pitch shot to tie the game at 2-2.
"That was in the zone, at least," Esquer said. "Some of the pitches were just not competitive, like, there's no read to it, it's a ball out-of-hand, and the guy doesn't even have to make a decision. So, OK for getting your feet wet. Those guys remind me of the Matt Flemer's of the world, and sometimes, it takes some experience and some strength for them to get to where they need to be."
Farney is now 6-for-13 on the year, with four doubles and three RBIs, with a first-inning two-bagger driving home Devin Pearson, and then Farney himself riding home on a Brett Cumberland double. Farney also added a walk, his second of the season.
“I took a lot of lumps in the fall,” Farney said, of his first time back on the field in 21 months after Tommy John surgery. "Eskie just kept giving me at-bats in the fall, getting me back in the groove. Every time somebody needed to throw a live bullpen, he got me in there, and I get to see everything before it's my turn, with Kranson hitting in front of me and Cumby right behind me. Just working with it. No scouting report on me, because I sat out all last year."
"It's [against] left-handed and right-handed pitching; it doesn't matter," Esquer said. "We need a couple guys to lead us and take the pressure off of some guys."
The real pitching star of the evening was closer Erik Martinez. The sophomore earned his second save of the season and the third of his career with 1.1 innings of work, allowing one hit and one walk with two strikeouts.
Of the nine outs Martinez has recorded this season, seven have been strikeouts. His only blemishes on the night was a jam-shot swinging bunt by Harrison Bruce and a four-pitch walk to Giarratano in the ninth. Following a mound visit from first-year pitching coach Thomas Eager, Martinez then induced two weak pop-outs to end the game.
“It's frustrating when they get a hit off of you, it was like a bunt, almost,” Martinez said. "That's one of the most frustrating things. You'd almost rather it be a shot single to the right fielder."
Martinez didn't throw a single off speed pitch until he faced Miroglio after the walk.
"I started him off with a slider, then I went off-speed, tried to change it up a little bit, and made an adjustment because I couldn't get a feel for the fastball," Martinez said. "It popped him up."
Martinez’s effort followed 1.2 innings of relief work on the part of freshman Tanner Dodson, who came on after senior Jesse Kay failed to get an out in the top of the seventh, allowing three straight singles, including an RBI knock under the glove of a diving Farney at first off the bat of Nico Giarratano.
Dodson came in, and, in four pitches, got a tailor-made double play off the bat of catcher Dominic Miroglio, before allowing a run-scoring flare single to center by third baseman Dan James. Dodson won a seven-pitch battle against Manny Ramirez, Jr., getting a swing-and-miss strikeout from the son of the former MLB great to end the threat.
Dodson then struck out Brett Valley, and got a charging, cross-body throw to first by Kranson on a slow roller from Beau Bozett. It was Kranson’s second big play of the day at third. In the top of the sixth, with Valley at the plate and Ramirez on with a single into center, Kranson cheated in, charged, barehanded a slow roller and fired to first.
"That first one, that was really my first play of the season," Kranson said. "That was the only play I'd had [in the game], and it felt good."
Not to be out-done, on the very next play, senior right fielder Brian Celsi then made a dead-run one-handed grab at the wall on a drive by Bozett.
Also impressive on defense was freshman Cal shortstop Ripken Reyes, who took over for Preston GrandPre (fouled a ball off his foot at Duke) at the keystone spot in his first collegiate action, and has the fastest hands on the team, according to Farney, as he showed on one of two double plays turned by the Bears.
"Man, he came out to play," said Farney, who, like Reyes, was an under-sized middle infielder just four and a half years ago, just like Reyes. "He got on base twice for us, when we really needed it, especially that walk that led to a run, wearing pitches when he needed to, making plays on defense, showing he can bring that glove."
It was a seven-pitch Reyes walk after a free pass to Celsi and a single to right by Robbie Tenerowicz that led to a bases-loaded sacrifice fly by Aaron Knapp, and then Kranson’s rocket-shot two-run double to right center field in the fourth, which ended a marathon nine-pitch at-bat against lefty reliever Scott Parker.
“He was in, out, up, down, I saw slider, I saw curveball, whatever it was, and I knew he didn't have anything really to get me out," Kranson said. "I was fouling off all his good pitches. I saw his best pitches in the dirt, so I knew I saw everything, and hey, he finally gave me a pitch I could handle, and I didn't miss it."
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Stellar defense wasn’t limited to the Cal side of the diamond, as Giarratano, son of San Francisco head coach Nino, made a sprawling, diving one-handed grab in shallow left in the bottom of the first to erase leadoff man Knapp.
Cal (2-2) next takes on Purdue in a series at Evans Diamond this weekend, starting Friday at 7 p.m., with junior Daulton Jefferies (1-0, 0.00 ERA) facing off against Boilermakers righty Tanner Andrews.