When California head coach David Esquer scheuled the Bears' nonconference games, he wanted to leave no doubt that this Bears team wasn't afraid of facing tough competition. After losing two of the first three games to a Duke team that was on the fringes of the top 25, Cal has won seven of its last eight games, including a 6-0 decision on Saturday afternoon over No. 23 Texas at Disch-Falk Field, clinching the series win.
"I don't know that you expect it, and I was really disappointed -- I thought there were a couple management errors on my part at Duke that cost us a win, so I feel like we've really concentrated and we're trying to really define ourselves, moving forward," said head coach David Esquer. "I don't know that you can anticipate winning three games at Texas, but I knew we were much better than we'd played opening weekend, though they were three good ballgames."
Senior righty Ryan Mason -- who struck out 10 in his last outing -- earned his second win of the season with a 7.0-inning, two-hit, two-walk, six-strikeout performance, throwing 98 pitches and once again using his change up to great effect, particularly as a swing-and-miss pitch.
"When the change up's on, it's on, so I'm going to get a few punchouts, but you know how I pitch -- to the defense, get the ground ball," Mason said.
The win was Mason's 20th, moving him to 20-7 on his career. His 20 wins are the ninth-highest career total for a pitcher in Cal history.
"This is everything that ever wanted coming back for my senior year, and I've got all the respect in the world for my teammates, making the plays behind me," Mason said. "Robbie [Tenerowicz], two great plays in the hole to end the seventh, without those, those are knocks, every day of the week."
Freshman Tanner Dodson, who was 0-1 with a 2.45 ERA on the season, took the place of closer Erik Martinez, who's earned saves each of the last two nights, and in his first save situation, the first-year two-way player nailed down his first career save, using a mix of fastballs and sliders.
"I was just trying to do what Mason did all day -- throw strikes, get outs," Dodson said. "We've got a great defense behind me, so just throw strikes and get outs."
Dodson, after giving up a first-pitch line-drive single to left by Brady Harlan in the bottom of the eighth, got three straight outs.
"You never want to give up a leadoff single, but you've got your first batter, on the road, at Texas, so it settled me down a bit," Dodson said.
In the ninth, with dangerous Tres Barrera -- who hit nine home runs with a .481 slugging percentage a year ago -- coming to the dish, Dodson got two straight nubbers to the mound, and then a fly out to left to end the game.
"I thought the first hitter he faced, it took him a little while to get into the zone, but once he found the zone, he was pretty good," Esquer said. "Games will be closer, and we need him to be right in that zone immediately."
Cal (8-3) moved to 7-1 this season when it scores first, thanks to a two-run first inning that brought back memories of the first two games for the Longhorns, when the Bears struck first with two-run innings both nights. Catcher Brett Cumberland added his third home run of the season in the top of the sixth, and the Bears added three two-out, unearned tallies in the top of the ninth thanks to a throwing error by second baseman Joe Baker.
"Ryan Mason may be the best competitor I've ever coached on the mound," Esquer said of his winning pitcher. "He gives you a chance every time, no matter how he feels, no matter what his pitches look like, and he just pitched old and experienced today."
Blow by Blow
Juinor Aaron Knapp led things off with an 0-1 fly ball deep to left, putting left fielder Jake McKenzie out of sorts as the ball twisted in the wind, and then caromed off the heel of his glove for a leadoff triple. A sacrifice fly to middle-deep left by Mitchell Kranson brought Knapp home. After Devin Pearson took his third HBP of the series, and Cumberland lined a first-pitch single up the middle, left fielder Nick Halamandaris sent a hot shot over Kacy Clemens at first for the Bears' second run of the day.
Mason then cruised through the next four innings, allowing just a two-out double by second baseman Joe Baker in the first, and getting help from second baseman Robbie Tenerowicz, who, despite having his seven-game hitting streak broken, turned in three scintillating plays on defense. The first was on Bret Boswell in the top of the fourth, where Tenerowicz raced up the middle, gloved the roller, spun back around and threw to first to erase the Big 12 All-Freshman selection from a year ago.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1648661-cal-beats-back-no-... "Robbie made absolutely incredible plays. He made some stellar second base plays," Mason said.
"He's really good," Esquer said. "He's a game-changer. We're trying to get his offense going, but his defense is pretty darn good."
In the bottom of the fifth, shortstop Preston GrandPre booted a leadoff grounder by Michael Cantu, but Mason still got two fly outs on the next two batters. Then, up stepped Kacy Clemens -- the younger of the two Clemens brothers (sons of MLB great and Texas alum Roger Clemens).
"Kacy Clemens took me for about 12 pitches on a great at-bat to lead to a walk; that was a hell of an at-bat for him," Mason said. "I just had to refocus after that one, and that's the reason for the long inning. I was cruising a little bit in the pitch count column, and then Kacy took me for a deep one. You know what, hats off to him. Great at-bat. We were just able to get out of it."
The walk to Clemens was Mason's first of the game, and Cal's sixth of the series, but Mason wasn't deterred. he needed just three pitches to fan Harlan and end the threat to get out of the jam.
The Bears added a third run -- and some breathing room -- with a 1-0 homer by Cumberland to left to lead off the top of the sixth, and despite giving up a hit and a walk to lead off the sixth inning, Mason wriggled off the hook. Mason fielded a bunt by Baker to the mound, moving both runners into scoring position, but then fanned Barrera and got a grounder to GrandPre to end the threat and escape a two-on, no-out jam.
"Preston came up in a big spot with runners on second and third, two outs, and made the play that counts," Mason said. "My only approach is to get weak contact right there. If I can force weak contact, we have a good chance to get out of that without a run. Thankfully, I did, and Preston made the play that counts. I got a big punch-out, and the bunt fielding, that's just pitcher fielding practice that got me through that. The ball to Preston was at him, and it's a play we expect him to make, but in that situation, on the road, big spot, we've only got a three-run lead. That's a play that takes guts, and he had it."
Mason was, Esquer said, pitching "on fumes" in the bottom of the seventh, and that wasn't helped by an eight-pitch battle with Kody Clemens, which ended on a chopper back to the box.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1648382-no-12-bears-punch-... Then, Mason got two more highlight-reel plays from Tenerowicz, who snared a shoe-top liner off the bat of McKenzie for the second out, and then, playing in the perfect spot on the outfield grass, made a diving grab on a liner by Kacy Clemens to end the inning.
"I've got to give Brad [Sanfilippo] a lot of credit, because Clemens was up, and he was seeing Ryan very well the whole day, so he had Robbie play as deep and as far over as he could," Esquer said. "He positioned him right in front of the ball.
With two outs in the top of the ninth, and speedy Jeffrey Mitchell at second thanks to a leadoff walk, the Bears benefitted from Baker going full Chuck Knoblauch, throwing away an easy grounder by GrandPre and allowing Mitchell to come around to score.
Veterans Knapp and Kranson then did their jobs, with the speedy center fielder lining a single into left off of reliever Travis Duke, then stealing second, and Kranson sending a booming fly ball to right and off the outfield wall for an RBI double.
"That experience has got to be an advantage for us, so having the experience and having them put the nail in the coffin a little bit, where you want those guys to come up big in that big spot, a guy like Kranson is a great example," Esquer said.
The extra runs quieted down the crowd of 5,467, and let Dodson get back to work without any weight on his back.
"I think our offense, putting a big three-spot up for us, quieted the crowd down, so at that point, it was just throw strikes, because our offense did all the work," Dodson said. "It makes it easier, especially when we have Knapp and Kranny coming up big. They make it a lot easier."
Reigning Big 12 Pitcher of the Week Ty Culbreth went 8.0 innings, allowing three runs -- all earned -- on six hits and two walks, with six strikeouts, throwing 104 pitches. He took the loss. Reliever Blake Wellmann started the ninth, allowing a walk, recording two outs, and then the roller to second that proved to be Texas's undoing. After the error by Baker, he was replaced by Duke, who gave up Knapp's single and Kranson's double.
Three Bears recorded mult-hit days as Cal rattled out eight hits: Knapp (2-for-5, 2 R, RBI, 3B), Pearson (2-for-4, R, 2B) and Cumberland (2-for-3, HR, R, RBI).
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1647718-cal-jefferies-pull... Cal will finish the series on Sunday at 10 a.m., Pacific, on the Longhorn Network, with Matt Ladrech (1-0, 5.00 ERA, .294 BAA) taking the mound for the Bears.
"We're going to have to be good on the road," Esquer said. "We've said it every year: We've never hosted a Regional or a Super Regional, so a lot of times, the road to Omaha for us, is on the road."
With Dodson, Martinez and Keaton Siomkin unavailable after having already pitched in the series, the bullpen will likely consist of freshmen Joey Matulovich (0-0, 2.84 ERA) and Aaron Shortridge (1-1, 1.80 ERA) on Sunday. 6-foot-7 right Alex Schick is still about three weeks away from returning, though he is running full speed, Esquer said.
"These four-game series stretch you in some uncomfortable was, but it's a necessity for us," Esquer said. "We've got to see what Dodson, Shortridge and Matulovich can do for us. We can't go to Siomkin and Martinez over and over and over again. We've got to find one more guy."