“For us to be who we want to be, we’ve got to play at that level,” he said.
On Thursday night, the No. 20 Bears (12-6, 2-2 in Pac-12) did just that, downing the Beavers 6-2, behind a dominant performance from junior starter Daulton Jefferies and a five-run fourth that saw Cal send 10 men to the plate.
The righty tossed his first 9.0-inning complete game (he threw an 8.0-inning complete game in a May 8, 2015 loss to Campbell), needing just 106 pitches, scattering four hits and striking out four.
"I think I was at 94 [pitches] in the eighth, and Thomas [Eager] asked me if I wanted the ball, and I said, 'Absolutely,'" Jefferies said.
"He's a stud," said first baseman Nick Halamandaris, who went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs. "What a great performance ... It feels good. It feels really good, but we've got to keep going."
"The first one, I don't know how he hit it," Jefferies said. "He's one hell of a hitter. It leaked back over the middle of the plate, and it was a foot off the ground. He's a really good hitter. All these guys are great. They're No. 3 in the country. When it comes to trying to make pitches and stay confident, it slowed me down. The second one, I'd thrown a 3-2 change up to the guy before, and he was looking for it. He's a pretty pull guy, and he got it on the outer half, and it was up. I don't think Brian [Celsi] even did anything. He just looked. I looked at Brian, turned around and asked for a ball back."
After allowing the first-inning blast to Harrison, he retired 17 of the next 18 men he faced, and recorded 18 straight outs, as an infield single in the second was erased on a double play.
With Thursday’s win, moved over .500 for the first time in his career since he started his freshman season 2-0. He was 13-13 going into tonight, and is now 14-13.
Though this was Jefferies’s first career game in which he gave up more than one home run, he was in a groove from the second inning on.
“I never really try to strike out guys; I just try to make pitches the best I can,” Jefferies said. "I was getting ahead early on some guys, and it helped that I didn't walk anybody. That kind of kept the momentum going, got the guys back in, and when I'm out there, I try to get back to the dugout as quickly as possible.
"I think it was fastball command, change up, slider. Slider first pitch, they usually took it, so it was a little get-me-over, and then went away with fastball command. I executed pitches, executed the slider first pitch."
The win evened the Bears’ conference record, and served as a salve after Cal lost two of three last weekend against USC, after a similarly impressive performance from Jefferies last Thursday gave way to two sloppy losses in the final two games of the series.
“We had kind of lost our rhythm on defense, and it started to peck away at us a bit and give the opposition a little too much,” Esquer said. “I thought we played a lot better tonight, enough to where if we play that type of defense, we’re not going to give games away.”
Coming in to Thursday’s game, Cal had committed 11 errors in its last three games, but on Thursday, the Bears were clean, with two stellar plays turned in in the top of the seventh, thanks to a running over-the-shoulder grab by second baseman Robbie Tenerowicz and a sprinting grab by center fielder Aaron Knapp, ranging from left center to right center, to snare a drive by Harrison.
"I think that was our best defensive game, thus far," Jefferies said. "For Robbie to make those plays, GrandPre, Knapp, to be able to do it on the other side of the ball, as well, that takes us into tomorrow."
The final play of the day, in the ninth, saw third baseman Mitchell Kranson make a charging play on a roller up the third base line, also by Harrison.
“It was a big win for us. The difference, it’s so cliché in baseball, but we haven’t played good enough defense to beat teams like that in a while, and it was pitching and defense,” Esquer said. “That's what we have to be, and that’s who we are. We’re not going to run out there and just out-talent teams and bludgeon them to death. We’ve got to play baseball.”
In contrast to having been nickel-and-dimed by errors as of late, Cal instead was the team capitalizing on mistakes.
In the bottom of the fourth, the Bears got to starter Drew Rasmussen thanks to four hits and two crucial errors by the Beavers.
After a leadoff walk to Kranson, Rasmussen got a grounder off the bat of red-hot catcher Brett Cumberland, but it went under the glove of Harrison at first, allowing Cumberland to reach, and Kranson to advance to third.
Brenden Farney – starting his first game of the year in left, while Nick Halamandaris returned to first base, where he finished last season – then sent the second pitch he saw into center for a line-drive RBI single, Cal’s first hit of the game.
A sacrifice bunt moved Farney and Cumberland into scoring position for Halamandaris, who sent a rocket over second baseman Nick Madrigal, putting the Bears ahead for good, 2-1.
Tenerowicz then sent a high chopper over third baseman Cadyn Grenier for another RBI single, bringing the score to 3-1.
A bunt to third by shortstop Preston GrandPre brought Grenier charging in, but in trying to barehand the ball, he over-ran it, loading the bases and spelling the end for Rasmussen, who threw 62 pitches in 3.1 innings.
The sophomore righty – who was questionable before the game, due to back spasms – then exited for reliever Scotland Church, who walked Devin Pearson to plate another run.
“The didn’t announce a starter until they got to the park,” Esquer said. “I didn’t know that it was going to become a factor. Once he started, I thought he was completely healthy, so I was surprised to see him have to leave.”
Knapp – who, led off for 93 straight games, did not hit in the leadoff spot – then sent a breaking ball hopping to first for an RBI groundout, putting Cal up 5-1.
“I think a team that we respect as much as Oregon State, we said, ‘Listen, the game can turn on one play, or one mistake, and we’ve got to be ready to take advantage,’” Esquer said.
Knapp came into the game with a .296 on-base percentage – by far the lowest of his career – and hitting .243. He went 0-for-3.
“On-base percentage was a little bit of a factor, and maybe taking a little bit of heat off of him,” said Esquer, who hit Pearson at the top of the lineup, and moved Kranson to third. “Devin’s a pretty experienced player. We felt like when the lineup starts rolling back to the top, we’ve got a guy who can drive in some runs.”
The Bears – who had squandered a two-on, no-out opportunity in the first – added another run in the bottom of the fifth, when Halamandaris sent a blast just to the left of center, off the wall to bring home Cumberland, who reached on a leadoff walk, keeping intact his streak of 17 straight games reaching base safely.
“The second guy who came in (Scotland Church), he was really comfortable kind of flipping his off-speed in there, and he just happened to leave one kind of up for me, and I got a good piece of the barrel on it," Halamandaris said. "This field plays strange. Sometimes, at night, when there's no wind, it can really carry, and when there's a touch of wind, the ball goes nowhere. I was fortunate to get a ball to the wall there."
In the top of the seventh, Ice launched his fifth homer of the year, two pitches after he sent a swinging bunt up third that Kranson let roll foul. Kranson wouldn’t have been able to beat Ice with a throw, given how slowly the ball was going, and it was the smart play, until Ice launched one to right.
“I told him, I said, if he’d have touched it, the guy wouldn’t have hit a homer,” Esquer laughed.
After that shot, Jefferies fell behind 3-0 to right fielder Jack Anderson, before coming back and getting the strikeout to end the frame.
• Tenerowicz went 1-for-4 with a run and an RBI, and has started to hit the ball very solidly over the last 10 games. He’s hitting a career-best .262. Over the last six games, Tenerowicz is 8-for-21 (.381) with four RBIs, a triple and a double.
“He’s calmed himself down,” Esquer said. “Coach Sanfilippo has given him an approach that’s competitive. It’s not so hit-and-miss and do-or-die. Robbie’s aggressiveness is a great tool for him, but it can be a weakness, sometimes, too. I think he’s found a happy medium.”
• Jefferies’s win makes Cal 6-0 in series openers. Over his last two starts, Friday’s starter Ryan Mason has gone 0-1, allowing six earned runs in 6.2 innings of work, with 13 hits and two walks to just one strikeout.
“We’ve won on Friday, every Friday,” Esquer said. “We need to back that up. I told our team, I cautioned them, I said, ‘You can win one out of three every weekend for 10 weekends, and you’re 10-20, and you go nowhere. We’ve got to win series, and then some.’ If you’re in a Super Regional against a team like Oregon State, and you win one, you go nowhere. You’ve got to win the series. That next point – the Mason game and Game 3, whether it be Bain or Ladrech, that’s a game we’ve got to have to win.”
• On the topic of moving back to the infield, while Farney moved to left, Halamandaris poked some fun at himself and his fellow senior.
"If it's a footrace, it's going to be a slow footrace," he said. "But, it's going to be even."