After the season-opening series against Duke, California head coach David Esquer said that his No. 12 Bears needed some early-season close games to get them tuned up for an eventual playoff run. After a 4-1 series-opening win on Thursday against No. 23 Texas, Esquer and Cal got another tight one, edging the Longhorns, 4-3, with Bears alum Jeff Kent in attendance, among the crowd of 5,280 at Disch-Falk Field.
Despite being what Esquer called "under the weather," with a low-grade fever on Thursday, junior ace Daulton Jefferies ground through a season-long 7.0-inning outing, scattering six hits and one walk while striking out seven on 99 pitches.
Cal has now won five of its last six games, and move to 7-3 on the season.
“I felt good today, my changeup was working well, my fastball was working well and it always takes a little bit of pressure off in this type of environment to get a few runs on the board," Jefferies said. "It was a very nice team effort tonight and I couldn’t ask for a better ballclub. [Jeff] Bain set the tone and did a heck of a job yesterday and I just try to go out and do my job and [Ryan] Mason's got to do it tomorrow and then we’ve got [Matt] Ladrech on Sunday to close it out. The momentum is going for sure and we’ve just got to worry about the next game and the next pitch and we’ll see how it goes."
As on Thursday, Cal got early runs, though, despite making solid contact in the first and second, the Bears got their runs on bleeders and bloops in the third.
"It's critical for us. We took the approach a year ago, and we need to keep it again this year: When you go on the road, you're going to the Austin Regional, the Los Angeles Regional, the Corvallis Regional, and you've got to learn how to play on the road, Regional-type baseball, and that's the approach we've had this weekend, because we knew it was going to be a quality opponent, and runs are going to be hard to come by, and you're going to have to pitch and play defense to keep the game close." -- David Esquer
"We faced a tough pitcher, he was really good, and I thought we let him off the hook in the first inning," Esquer said. "I thought we could score a run, but we got a lead. I felt like an ordinary team would have found a way to lose that game, and we found a way to stay on top."
Shortstop Preston GrandPre took a dose to lead off the frame, and was sacrificed over to second by center fielder Aaron Knapp. A groundout by Mitchell Kranson moved GrandPre to third, and after a seven-pitch walk to Devin Pearson, Brenden Farney stepped to the dish.
In the first, Farney sent a shot to first, and after a slick grab by first baseman Kacy Clemens, Roger Clemens's youngest son slipped on his way to the bag, but was still able to beat Farney. In the top of the third, Farney lofted a flare to shallow left, which left fielder Ben Kennedy lost in the twilight over Disch-Falk Field. The ball fell in front of him, bringing GrandPre in to score. A wild pitch to Brett Cumberland brought Pearson in, and, once again, Cal held an early 2-0 lead over the Longhorns (5-5).
Clemens got back on the good side of the ledger with a leadoff double in the bottom of the third, but Jefferies fanned Zane Gurwitz on an 83 mph slider and then induced a foul pop out by pesky Bret Boswell to end the threat.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1647718-cal-jefferies-pull... Cal slumbered through the next two innings, with Texas starter Kyle Johnston striking out five of the next six men he faced, allowing just a 2-0 fifth-inning single to Kranson for El Gaucho's second hit of the day.
But, Johnston's pitch count kept climbing rapidly, and by the top of the sixth, he was sitting on 87 pitches on the day.
6-foot-1, 235-pound Nick Halamandaris -- not known for his foot speed, but who tallied his first career triple against Duke in the opening series, and stole a base last week -- then legged out an infield single just under the mitt of Johnston, which rolled back of second. Though second baseman Joe Baker gloved the ball, he wasn't able to make the throw in time.
Senior right fielder Brian Celsi then ripped a hard shot to the right side, right at Halamandaris, who had to hold up as the ball whistled by him for a single.
With the chance to press the advantage, Esquer took out the big-hitting Halamandaris for speedy freshman Jeffrey Mitchell.
Two pitches later, second baseman Robbie Tenerowicz shot a groundball single up the middle, bringing Mitchell home. Celsi made a big turn around second and was caught in a run-down for the second out, but allowing Tenerowicz to take second.
"Every now and then, you make a right call and it shows up right away," Esquer said of swapping Halamandaris for Mitchell. "We knew that if we could get another run, and it was going to be a low-scoring game, and Daulton was pitching so well, we needed to probably play defense a little earlier than we would have liked, because it did not look like the game was going to open up in either direction."
Tenerowicz's double play partner GrandPre then rolled a 2-0 grounder to short for an infield single, but Boswell's throw wasn't just late, but it sailed wide of first, allowing Tenerowicz to score.
“It’s huge for our pitchers when the offense gets a couple of early runs, which takes the pressure off of us," Jefferies said. "It allows us to be able to make pitches and not try to do too much. It takes us out of a lot of high-stress situations, so that we aren’t making a lot of high-stress pitches, so when they are able to do that, you need to be able to go and get that first guy out and that’s what we did tonight. That shifted the momentum a bit and we will take it into tomorrow.”
Tenerowicz was key in the next frame, as, in the top of the sixth, after right fielder Brady Harlan struck out, Gurwitz sent a hard grounder under Tenerowicz's glove for a one-out single.
"A couple plays got by us," Esquer said. "I felt we could have locked them down on defense, but we didn't do that. We let them back into the game, and they made it close. I think even Robbie will tell you that he should probably make that play on Gurwitz. That would have changed the complexion of the inning. We didn't make that play, and that's uncharacteristic of us."
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1648382-no-12-bears-punch-... Boswell, who fell behind 1-2 on a swing-and-miss change up, then pulled a liner down the left field line, into the corner. Fortuitously for the Bears, the ball then bounced up and into the stands, and then back out, but Mitchell -- now in for Halamandaris -- raised his arms, and the umpires ruled it a ground rule double, keeping Gurwitz from scoring. It proved to matter not, as Gurwitz came in to score on a sacrifice fly by Baker, before Jefferies got the comebacker from Tres Barrera to end the inning.
Jefferies worked quickly in the bottom of the seventh, getting his sixth strikeout on a swing-and-miss by Michael Cantu, and then a first-pitch grounder to second by Kody Clemens. With two outs and nobody on, the Longhorns mounted a rally.
Left fielder Jake McKenzie -- a sophomore right-hander who came on to replace the left-handed hitting Kennedy after his gaffe on Farney's flare -- then pulled a grounder to the hole at short. GrandPre backhanded the ball, but his throw to first pulled Farney off the bag.
"GrandPre kind of took it hard, because the game got closer than we would have liked, but I like that about them -- they have high expectations of what level of defense they need to play for us to be a good team," Esquer said.
Jefferies then issued a six-pitch walk to Kacy Clemens, and after getting ahead of Harlan 0-2, he allowed a hot single back up the middle, just under the glove of Tenerowicz, cutting the lead to 4-2.
Jefferies then came back and struck out Gurwitz to end the frame and keep the Longhorns at bay.
"We really were confident that he could get out of it," Esquer said. "He was at 70 pitches going into that inning, and we have a lot of confidence in our defense."
Esquer then went to senior Keaton Siomkin for the second night in a row, allowing a line-drive single to short by Baker and then a booming double to left center off the bat of Barrera to close the lead to one.
That was all Esquer needed to see, as he pulled Siomkin for closer Erik Martinez.
"It's pretty tough to go back-to-back days, and I think Keaton's not as sharp going back to back, but we had to try," Esquer said. "We're going to have to find somebody else, and if we get into that same situation this weekend, someone else is going to be in there, so it will be a good test for us."
"After that walk, one out, still in good shape, runner in scoring position at the same bag, so it was only beneficial, because it was a double play situation," Martinez said. "I didn't think too negatively of it."
He then got exactly what he needed, as Kody Clemens lined out to Tenerowicz, who stepped on the second base bag to double off Barrera, who was going on contact.
"They make it unbelievably -- not easy, not only easy, but I'm able to pitch with a lot more confidence, with the defense we have behind us, as a staff," Martinez said. "They allow us to pitch our game, and let everything happen the way it's supposed to happen."
Martinez got into really the first spot of self-imposed trouble that he's engineered all year in the bottom of the ninth, allowing a walk to Kacy Clemens and a single to Harlan, but then came back with two strikeouts -- fanning Gurwitz and Boswell swinging to ice his fourth save in as many chances.
"You get a little nervous, the crowd gets loud, a little wild, so I kind of composed myself," Martinez said. "It's my job to finish the game. My guys have my back. They were cheering me on. I gave it my best effort."
Martinez used only fastballs for the entire outing, but his two-seam fastball moved so much that commentators thought it was his slider.
"I threw nothing but fastballs, the whole game," Martinez said. "Not one slider, curveball or change up."
• With four saves in the first 10 games, Martinez is almost halfway to Cal's single-season record of 10, set back in 2004 by Jesse Ingram, and tied in 2014 by Trevor Hildenberger, who's been a regular at home games this season, before reporting to minor league camp for the Minnesota Twins. Last season, Dylan Nelson had eight. In both 2007 and 2008, Matt Gorgen had nine. If the pace holds, he'd more than double the record, with 22 saves.
"Erik Martinez has been outstanding, both days," Esquer said of his sophomore closer, who's shut the door each of the last two nights. "I just always remember that bases-loaded situation at Texas A&M last year. I know he's been in tougher, and that gives me the confidence to know that he's not going to overreact to a situation. If they beat him, they beat our best. I think that's all you really ask for."
Martinez said that he reaches back to that bases-loaded situation against Texas A&M in the College Station Regional when he enters in a jam, as he did on Friday.
"It's really nice to have that experience; I like to think about it, but not rely on it, too much," Martinez said. "I think it's really beneficial to have that experience. It minimizes the situation, lets it not get too out-of-proportion. It's comforting to have gone through that, already.
• Jefferies, who has 24 strikeouts so far through three games, all wins, is on pace for 120 through the end of the regular season. That would tie him for second on the all-time single-season list with San Diego Padres Opening Day starter Tyson Ross, who turned the trick in 2007 as a sophomore. The all-time single-season Cal K record belongs to Bill Frost, who struck out 169 in 1966. Only four Bears pitchers since 1966 have struck out 100 or more batters.
• With a 2-for-3 day on Friday, Kranson is 6-for-15 in his last four games, with three runs scored, two doubles and three RBIs. He's hitting .316 on the year with four doubles, one home run and seven RBIs.
• Junior Alex Schick is still on the shelf with a knee injury, and after an unsatisfactory outing by Siomkin in middle relief, Cal will have to find another arm out of the bullpen. The other arms the Bears have used in relief are young -- freshmen Joey Matulovich, Tanner Dodson and Aaron Shortridge -- or short on experience, like Jesse Kay, or have already pitched this weekend (Jeff Bain was Thursday's winner with 6.1 innings of work). Jordan Talbot has thrown, but so far, sparingly.
Towards the end of the season, or even the middle, this would be a game where Jefferies would have gone into the eighth.
"He's been a little under the weather, so I think that affected his stamina," Esquer said. "He gave us seven, and there's not much more we could ask. Down the line, if he was feeling better, he may be able to push through another one."
• Over the last two games against Texas, the Bears have tallied 21 hits -- all but one -- a ninth-inning double by Knapp on Friday -- being singles. In the two games, Cal has laid down four sacrifice bunts, and tried for two more. Coming into the series, the Bears had only laid down two in the previous eight games.
"The home run doesn't look like it's going to come into play with the wind blowing in a little bit," Esquer said. "We have confidence in our offense, but we just wanted to be a little bit more dynamic, and not really conservative, but I think we want to be able to make sure that we can be a little more dynamic, offensively. We were playing a little for the three-hit inning early in the season, and we'd like to take advantage of a lot of different hitters, rather than relying on three hits and inning."