Series At a Glance
Thursday: Jeff Bain (0-1, 3.38 ERA) vs. Nolan Kingham (0-0, 0.00 ERA) at 4 p.m., Pacific (Longhorn Network)
Friday: Daulton Jefferies (2-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Kyle Johnston (1-0, 2.45 ERA) at 4 p.m., Pacific (Longhorn Network)
Saturday: Ryan Mason (1-0, 2.77 ERA) vs. Ty Culbreth (2-0, 0.69 ERA) at 12 p.m., Pacific (Longhorn Network)
Sunday: Matt Ladrech (1-0, 5.00 ERA) vs. Connor Mayes (0-1, 3.38 ERA) at 10 a.m., Pacific (Longhorn Network)
BERKELEY – California righty Ryan Mason has cowboy-style work boots that he wears all the time. He wore them to the Bay Area College Baseball Media Day. He wears them around campus. According to fellow Bears hurler Daulton Jefferies, he even wears them with sweatpants. Just add another line to the Legend of Ryan Mason.
Jefferies – out of Atwater, Calif. – is no stranger to boots. Both he and Mason (Auburn, Calif.) hail from the boonie-er middle part of the state. But, Jefferies doesn’t quite live as loud as the 6-foot-6 Mason, and he isn’t nearly so brash about his boots.
Jefferies – who last June, sported a black cowboy hat in the dugout during the Bears’ walk-off 14-inning win against Texas A&M in the College Station Regional – is definitely bringing his wide-brim with him as No. 12 Cal returns to the Lone Star State this weekend for a four-game set with No. 23 Texas. He’s just not so sure about the boots, especially given that the Bears travel in full suit-and-tie attire.
“I’m going to see what I can do. My suit got a little shorter on me, so I’m going to see what I can do, because my boots have a little white and green flair on them,” Jefferies said. “I don’t know. We’ll see. I know Devin [Pearson] brought his last year, and it worked out.”
Jefferies’ family will be accompanying him on his second trip to Texas in nine months, and, he said, “it’s going to be a pretty rowdy section.”
Cal and the state of Texas have a robust recent history. In 2012, the Bears took two of three from the Longhorns at Dell Diamond, in Round Rock, Tex. Of course, Cal took the Aggies to the brink at Blue Bell park just last year.
Most poignantly for Jefferies – a projected first-round Major League Draft pick -- in 2014, Jefferies started his first college game against Texas, out-dueling Parker French, going 6.0 innings and allowing six hits and one walk while striking out four in a 7-0 win against the then-No. 18 team in the land.
“That was probably the first time I’ve ever being nervous on a mound,” Jefferies said. “Other than that, it was kind of a dream come true. Texas was my school, growing up, because my mom’s from Texas, so we were all big UT fans. It was a very surreal moment, and I’m excited to be back.”
Since that start, Jefferies has become an All-Pac-12 First-Team selection, struck out 136 more batters in 171.1 innings, and compiled a 3.10 career ERA.
"You just remember the promise of a kid who could compete at that level so early in his career," said head coach David Esquer. "He's just gotten better. As hard as it is to see improvement, because he starts off at such a high level, and it takes a long time to even see a little bit of improvement, you see big improvement in his game. His secondary pitches are better, his whole demeanor on the mound is better. Just to see him mature from such a high level to begin with is pretty remarkable."
As well as Jefferies knows the Longhorns, in abstract, he hasn’t seen this year’s group, yet.
“The last time I looked at them was when I pitched against them,” Jefferies said. “They’re a great ballclub. I know a few guys on the team, obviously they have a great legacy and tradition, and we’re excited.”
"I think we handle these trips, like a year ago, wherever we would go, we would call it the Los Angeles Regional, and the Corvallis Regional -- we felt like we were going to a Regional every week," said Esquer. "That'll be the same this weekend. We're going to the Austin Regional."
Texas (6-3) needed extra innings to defeat Texas State on the road on Tuesday, but once the Longhorns got going, they didn't stop. Texas beat back the Bobcats, 10-4, but Texas State did a number on freshman closer Chase Shugart. Shugart hadn't allowed a hit in his first 6.1 innings of work, but gave up two singles and a walk in the bottom of the ninth, but also struck out two and got a pair of bases-loaded grounders to get out of his own jam.
Zane Gurwitz -- who faced Cal last time the Longhorns visited Berkeley -- went 4-for-5 with a walk.
6-foot-3, 200-pound sophomore Travis Jones hit just .111 last season in 15 games, but this season, he's leading the Longhorns in hitting, going 8-of-16, playing in five of Texas's eight games, and while he's a first baseman by trade, much like Nick Halamandaris, he's manning left field this year for the Longhorns.
Like befuddling Michigan southpaw Oliver Jaskie – who shut the Bears out on Monday – Texas has its own left-handed weapon in Ty Culbreth. The 5-foot-10, 181-pound senior may not be big in stature, but on the mound, he’s huge. The reigning Big 12 Pitcher of the Week, Culbreth is 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA on the season, with 16 strikeouts, fanning 12 Stanford hitters in Saturday’s 9-0 win for the Longhorns.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1647276-michigan-shuts-out... Culbreth leads a staff that is 43rd in the nation in ERA (2.74), 13th in hits allowed per nine innings (6.13) and 46th in WHIP (1.14). Culbreth, for his part, is 88th in the nation in ERA and 77th in hits allowed per nine innings.
“Very similar,” Esquer said of the two lefties. “He struck out 12 Stanford hitters, and he’s got three – he’s got a fastball, a change up and a curve – and we’re going to have to have good at-bats against him. You hope he’s not as sharp as he was against Stanford, but he’s a challenge. We’ve got to learn how to beat pitchers like Michigan’s [Jaskie] and pitchers like him.”
Texas, statistically, is rather unremarkable. The Longhorns are 170th or worse (out o 287 teams) in walks, batting average (.254), on-base percentage (.339) and runs (35), but they’re still No. 23 in the nation, having taken two of three from UNLV to open the season, and then splitting a four-game set against the Cardinal.
Why are the Longhorns so effective?
“They’re back to playing small ball,” said Esquer. “I think they’re really trying to pressure you, by getting the leadoff hitter on, and they get that leadoff hitter on, that sets up their whole offense. They’re going to sac bunt, then get a base hit, and if you allow them to get leadoff hitters on, there’s no telling what they’ll do. They’ll hit and run, or slash, or do some different things.”
Texas is eighth in the nation with 10 sacrifice bunts in its first seven games, with sophomore Bret Boswell – a member of the 2015 Big 12 All-Freshman Team who ripped a two-run double on Tuesday against the Bobcats – is ninth in the nation in sacrifice bunts (3), with Tres Barrera and Zane Gurwitz (2 apiece) right behind him. He’s only hitting .242, and last season hit .253, but in conference play, hit .275, and was tied for third on the team with nine doubles and was third on the squad in walks (32), and tied for second on the team with 15 multi-hit games during the season.
Cal has not been bad defensively this year – a .977 fielding percentage (51st in the nation) on the season – but playing on the quick turf in Austin could be a challenge, particularly for the corners.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1646803-cal-completes-swee... “You play bad defense on turf, and you’ve got real problems,” Esquer said. “The mistakes are magnified when you’re playing on a turf field, so you’ve got to play good defense. We have yet to really catch fire defensively. We’ve made too many mistakes for our ability, but I eventually think we will play good defense, if not great defense.”
“Sometimes, that affects all the other positions,” Esquer said. “The first base position can really clean up the other three infielders, and over time, Brenden does some really good infielder type things at first base, but there’s a lot of meticulous first base things that will come with time.”
Esquer said that hot-hitting catcher Brett Cumberland – who went 6-for-10 over three games, before sitting on Sunday and going 0-for-3 on Monday – will be back behind the dish for all four games, though third baseman Mitchell Kranson will remain in reserve. The Bears need both of their bats in the lineup as much as possible, given that, during that three-game stretch, Cumberland three doubles, two home runs, three runs and five RBIs.
“I think he’s in shape to catch all four, now,” Esquer said. "We still need Mitchell Kranson kind of on stand-by, in case anything were to happen during the year, you want to be ready for it. You want to make sure your next guy has had some time behind the plate. The four-game series, they really stretch you in uncomfortable ways. They stretch your pitching staff, they stretch you mentally and physically. Our hope is that you come out the other side ready to go into league."
Cal will trot out sophomore Jeff Bain on Thursday to lead off the series on the mound.
"We didn't need Bain to win any of the first three games, but if you look at it, it really sets everyone up to stay on schedule for the next two weeks," said Esquer, who brings in Texas Tech for a four-game set next weekend, with a doubleheader on Saturday. "Not only will Bain pitch Thursday, but he'll probably pitch the first or second game on Saturday [against the Red Raiders]. He'll go from Thursday to Saturday, with an extra day's rest, and then Jefferies, Mason and Matt Ladrech will all have the exact normal rest that they would have. It kind of saves us from a disruption for a couple weeks."
Bain, a 2015 Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American, is 0-1 on the year with a 3.38 ERA in two relief appearances, striking out four in 5.1 innings of work.
"We have a lot of confidence in Bain," Esquer said. "We had enough confidence to pitch him on Fridays for five weeks a year ago [when Jefferies was hurt]. We've got a lot of confidence in his ability, and having him start the weekend, and Texas is doing the same thing. They're pitching Nolan Kingham on the first game, and I think Culbreth is their true No. 1."
“I needed to get that work in,” Bain said on Monday, after his 1.0 shutout inning against the Wolverines. “It’s good they lobbed me an inning to get out there.”
As for Texas?
“I’m going to go ahead and venture to say it’s Big 12 baseball, just like the SEC – Ego Baseball,” Bain said. What is Ego Baseball? “Big bats. A lot of swinging. A lot of fist pumping. That’s perfect for us. They see good pitching all the time, every weekend. I think it’ll be perfect for us.”