BERKELEY -- After smooth and as well-polished as the first two games between No. 3 Oregon State and No. 20 California were this weekend, things got weird on Saturday in a roughly-hewn finale between the two Pac-12 stalwarts.
The 5-3 comeback win for the Golden Bears (14-6, 4-2 in Pac-12) -- their first sweep of Oregon State (16-5, 3-3) since 2010 -- included a three-run first for the Beavers, a four-run second for Cal, a strike-three wild pitch, two base-running gaffes, a pitch out fired five feet up and to the right of the second baseman by the league's best defensive catcher, two singles off a pitcher's mitt, two starters that went a combined 2.0 innings and 7.2 no-hit innings of relief by sophomore Matt Ladrech, who earned his first win since Feb. 28 with a career-long outing.
"We need everybody, so it's great to see him come back," said head coach David Esquer, who'd sent Ladrech to the bullpen after he started the season with a 4.97 ERA and lasting more than 3.2 innings in only one of his three starts. "He didn't feel sorry for himself. He went to work these last two weeks, got himself back right. That's the Matt Ladrech we've seen before, and a testament to him working hard at it."
"This is our signature that we're continuing to build on: We're never down. We're never out. Whatever wacky stuff happens, we have the wherewithal to come back. We put some hits together, and magic happens." -- Nick Halamandaris
Cal starter Jeff Bain threw 28 pitches in the first inning, and after a three-pitch strikeout of local product Nick Madrigal to lead things off, looked exactly as he did last week against USC, when he lost composure after a first-inning home run. Last Saturday, it was a one-out solo shot to David Oppenheim, and this time out, it was a one-out, two-run dinger by K.J. Harrison, as part of a three-run first.
Bain allowed more hits in one inning -- four -- than Oregon State had mustered in either of the previous two games, and after the fourth knock -- a soft single up the middle by sophomore right fielder Jack Anderson -- Bain was pulled for fellow Freshman All-American Ladrech, who came in with the bases loaded and one out.
Ladrech needed just five pitches to record two outs, one of which was a potential bases-clearing extra-base hit by Kyle Nobach that instead settled into the diving mitt of Brenden Farney. The sacrifice fly brought home a run, but that was the only damage Ladrech allowed.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1655291-cal-clinches-serie... Ladrech retired the first 18 men he faced before a one-out walk to Nobach in the seventh, but even that was erased one pitch later, when pinch hitter Joe Gillette grounded into a 4-6-3 inning-ending double play. He finished his day retiring 21 of 22 hitters, with two strikeouts and one walk on an efficient 73 pitches.
"Baseball's a crazy game, and we've had our ups and downs; we're deep enough to mix it up a bit, and I made a few small changes during the week," Ladrech said. "I knew the opportunity was going to present itself this weekend for me to go out and pitch, whether it was the first inning, sixth inning, ninth inning. It was just a few small adjustments, just creating angles. My angles were a little bit off, and I was just making pitches. Once you get the angles right, it makes the game a little bit easier, and that's what happened."
The Bears -- who had played flawlessly on the bases, on the mound and in the field over the first two games -- had two base-running gaffes in the bottom of the first. Senior Devin Pearson appeared to reach on a throwing error by shortstop Trever Morrison, but he was indecisive about trying to take second, and was tagged out for his equivocation.
Then, after a two-out single up the middle, Aaron Knapp was nearly picked by starter Travis Eckert, and on the very next toss, failed to reduce his lead, and was cut down to end a very frustrating inning for the Bears.
"We probably had the worst first inning of baseball," Esquer said. "They score three runs, and we get picked off on the bases twice, and it could have been one of those days where, a team that's looking for a win is looking for you to give them one. They're looking for you not to show up, and I thought our guys did a great job of turning it around and showing up in the next eight innings."
The second inning was just as frustrating for Eckert as the first was for Bain. In the second, Eckert had hot-hitting Brett Cumberland struck out, but the ball got between the legs of Logan Ice, all the way to the backstop, allowing the Cal catcher to reach.
Then, with Farney up 2-0, Eckert allowed a single up the middle, and then, quicker than you can type his name, Nick Halamandaris ripped a first-pitch opposite-field single over the leaping shortstop Morrison to drive home two. A sacrifice bunt later, Preston GrandPre sent a shot off Eckert's glove for a two-run single, putting the Bears up, 4-3. Halamandaris later rocked a two-out double in the bottom of the sixth on another first-pitch swing.
"Especially with Oregon State, Eskie always says, 'The season is decided, if you can salvage a weekend on Sunday, avoid getting swept, and if you can step on the throat and sweep,'" Halamandaris said. In the past, it's been simpler: Sweep somebody, and don't get swept. "Against Oregon State, they're not going to lay down. That's going to be a tough game, 100 out of 100 times. To get down 3-0, that shows the team we are. In years past, I can't lie, we probably would have laid down, or not had the momentum throughout the game. This is our signature that we're continuing to build on: We're never down. We're never out. We put some hits together, and magic happens."
"We're mentally tough. We have some toughness to us. We're even a little tougher than I think, to be honest with you. I'm proud of our guys the way they fought through it." -- David Esquer
Apart from his work at the dish (3-for-4, 2 doubles, 1 run, 2 RBIs), Halamandaris made three exceptional plays at first in support of Ladrech, picking a chopper wide of first on a ball by Morrison in the top of the third, and then saving a throwing error with a great stretch for the second out in the sixth. After that play, Halamandaris kept his feet on a tough chopper by Morrison to end the inning.
"The whole thing today was the defense," said Ladrech, who saw the Bears go errorless for the third straight game, after committing 11 errors over the course of the preceding four games. "Nick at first, unbelievable. Everyone went gap-to-gap. It was a great day of defense."
Second baseman Robbie Tenerowicz, who has been Ladrech's second baseman both in high school at Moraga (Calif.) Campolindo and for the past year and 20 games, was also on point, making an over-the-shoulder catch for the third time in three games, and made a sliding stop in the top of the eighth. Tenerowicz made two put-outs and had four assists on the day.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1655063-jefferies-goes-the... "We were joking around the other day: I think I've looked back at him 200 times, between high school and college," Ladrech said. "I'm really comfortable with him back there."
As good as Ladrech was, Beavers reliever Luke Heimlich matched him early, tossing a scoreless 4.2 innings and throwing both his curve and change for strikes, and as swing-and-miss pitches. Heimlich allowed two hits and one walk, striking out five as the early excitement down shifted over the middle innings.
Knapp -- who came into the game hitting just .225 -- shook the crowd awake again in the bottom of the seventh, cashing in a 10-pitch walk to Pearson from Heimlich by dropping a triple into the right field corner off of Pac-12 saves leader Max Engelbrekt to make it 5-3. Knapp went 2-for-4 on the day.
"He's working hard at it," Esquer said. "It's not easy. The competition we're playing at the level that we play, this game is not easy, and this is part of the lesson to our guys: They've got to come out the other side and be better for it. Ladrech did, Brian Celsi's done it."
A night after going 2-for-2 with a monster home run and two RBIs, Cumberland took the golden sombrero, going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. Mitchell Kranson, who came in hitting .360, went 1-for-3.
"We want pitching and defense and a new hero every night, and everyone's got to be prepared and step up to be a big part of the game," Esquer said.
After 1,116 saw the Bears beat the Beavers on Friday, over 1,730 took in the Saturday afternoon contest at Evans Diamond, the largest crowd of the season.
Erik Martinez worked a hitless ninth, allowing one walk and striking out his 18th batter in 12.1 innings of work this season, earning his sixth save in six opportunities.
Oregon State came into the series hitting .331 to lead the Pac-12, but wound up hitting .133 over the three games against the Bears (12-for-90), who outscored the Beavers 16-5. Cal pitchers allowed just six walks and three hit batters, while striking out 23 over the course of the series.
6-foot-7 righty Alex Schick should be back on active duty in two weeks. He was in full uniform without crutches on Saturday, after he inujred his knee the week before the season opened. With a fastball in the mid-90s, that's the one bullpen piece the Bears could be missing, giving them yet another bridge to Martinez, in addition to Keaton Siomkin.
Last week against USC, the Bears had Emilio Rosas, a 2018 shortstop commit out of Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, on hand at the finale, along with 2016 signees Conner Bock and Anthony Walters. 2019 right-handed pitcher Hunter Kranton, also of Mater Dei, was also on hand for the Bears.