BERKELEY -- California senior Ryan Mason found out less than 15 minutes before Friday night's series opener against UCLA that he'd be starting in place of ace Daulton Jefferies, whose leg had bothered him the night before, and tightened up on him again as he warmed up.
Mason -- who's not one to overthink things, anyway -- took the mound and delivered 7.0 innings, allowing one run on six hits and two walks, striking out seven and earning his 23rd career win -- seventh on the Bears' all-time list -- lifting Cal to a 9-1 win over the visiting Bruins (12-11, 4-3 in Pac-12).
"He was mentally ready to go, he was kind of on-call," said head coach David Esquer. "We said we won't know until right up until [game time], and it came down to where [Jefferies] felt good with it, but Thomas said, 'Sit down and get back up five minutes later, and se if it feels better,' and it stiffened up."
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1643615-all-aboard-the-cra... Late Thursday night, pitching coach Thomas Eager called Mason to ask if he'd be able to go on Friday, and Mason answered in the affirmative, both on the phone ("I said 'Of course; I'm always there,'" Mason said), and then on the mound.
"Hey, I've said it before: If he's not the best competitor I've ever coached, he is right there, " Esquer said of Mason. "That's Ryan Mason. I've said a number of times, I think he's the best competitor as a pitcher that I've ever coached. He just comes out and he'll just compete. He'll give you what he has and he'll give you a chance to win, and he'll lay it out for you. He did that today for us, and it was huge."
The adjustment wasn't that big for Mason, as the Bears have had Thursday-Friday-Saturday series each of the last two weekends.
"I was conditioned to throw tonight, anyway," Mason said. "It wasn't really that big of a thing, but actual time, knowing, before the game, was about 13-14 minutes. It's hard seeing Daulton go through that, as well as he's pitching, but he just couldn't get any drive off of that leg today. His arm looked great. It really did."
The Bears (16-6, 5-2) banged out 13 hits, led by a 3-for-5, two-double, three-RBI night for Mitchell Kranson, who is now 16-for-29 with four doubles, two home runs and six RBIs in the seven series-opening games this season, over which Cal has a 7-0 record. The Bears are now tied with Utah (8-14, 5-2) for first place in the Pac-12, knocking UCLA down to second.
"You've got to have those guys; you have to have some players on your team who can hit their best pitching," Esquer said. "Kranny's one of those guys, and I think we've got more than that. I think Farney can get some hits off of those big guys, Cumby, obviously -- we've got a number of guys that, you put a stud out there, we can get a hit off of him. We're not on the defensive against the top pitching."
Cal and the 'Stache Bros got off to an early start, with a leadoff double in the bottom of the first by Devin Pearson, a perfectly-placed sacrifice bunt by center fielder Aaron Knapp and a first-pitch RBI double into right-center by Kranson kicking off the scoring.
After Mason turned in a five-pitch second and an eight-pitch frame in the top of the third, the mustachioed top of the lineup delivered again. With one out, Kranson cued a roller to third, and the throw from Luke Persico took first baseman Sean Bouchard off the bag and down the line for an error. Cumberland then rolled a single up the middle, and left fielder Brenden Farney punched an RBI single up the middle to put the Bears up, 2-0.
Shortstop Preston GrandPre made two of his three big-time defensive plays in the top of the fourth, backhanding a shot to the hole by Persico and bouncing a throw to a stretching Nick Halamandaris at first for the first out, and then finishing the inning by ranging again to the hole and firing off-balance to second to start a 6-4-3 double play.
GrandPre's double play partner, second baseman Robbie Tenerowicz went 2-for-3, with a run and two RBIs, making him 9 for his last 22 at the dish, and was among five Bears to tally multi-hit days. In fact, the first four hitters in the lineup -- Pearson, Knapp, Kranson and Cumberland -- went a combined 8-for-17 on the night, with six runs and four RBIs.
In the bottom of the fourth, after a leadoff walk to Tenerowicz, Pearson fisted a 2-1 pitch into right field for a single, and a rolling single to right by Knapp loaded the bases for Kranson.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1643846-el-gaucho-s-last-ride Kranson rolled a soft seeing-eye single through the right side to score two runs to make it 4-0, and a sacrifice fly by Cumberland drove in another for the sophomore catcher's 21st RBI of the season.
"We really took some really good swings on their guy," Esquer said. "He's a quality pitcher. Really, I felt it was one of those days we played old. We looked like we'd been there before, and we need to play with that experience to play against these tough teams."
Esquer said that relentless was the perfect word to describe the early attack, which saw the Bears put runners on in five of the first seven innings.
"That's how I felt, and that's how you have to be," Esquer said. "You have to show them. Even when they stop you, you have to be right on the edge. You want them to feel like they got away with an inning, and then they had to do it again and again and again. Eventually, we were going to push some runs across."
After the fourth-inning outburst, UCLA starter Griffin Canning retired eight straight, before surrendering a leadoff double to Kranson just inside the right field line in the bottom of the seventh. A Cumberland single put two men on, and with one out, right fielder Brian Celsi sent a bunt to the right side of the mound. Canning looked homeward to try and cut off Kranson, but in that split second, he lost the ball, allowing Celsi to reach to load the bases.
Halamandaris then dropped a parachute ball into left for a single on the first pitch he saw, and Tenerowicz sent a worm-burner up the middle to plate another two, giving him 10 RBIs on the season and spelling the end for Canning, who threw 118 pitches in 6.1 innings of work.
Halamandaris would come around to score on a wild pitch to Pearson by reliever Scott Burke.
The Bears' win over UCLA was their fifth straight win overall, equalling their longest winning streak of the season (four over Texas and the opener over Texas Tech).
"I think we're starting to play a little bit more consistently," Esquer said. "I think the defense is our key. We played really good defense behind Mason. You watched a pitcher who was able to throw free and easy out there, knowing that we were going to make some plays behind him. When Mason feels like he's got to strike you out to get out of trouble, he's not going to be good enough. When he's throwing the ball free and easy, and guys behind him are making plays on the infield, then, he's got a chance to be really good."
Mason had given up 12 runs in 6.2 innings of work against the Red Raiders and USC, but over his last two starts, he's gone 2-0, thawing 16.0 innings and allowing one run on 10 hits and three walks, with 14 strikeouts.
Mason started the evening throwing 40 of his first 47 pitches for strikes, and after one hit allowed in the top of the first, retired the next nine batters he faced, and after allowing an Eric Filia single, got a double play to end the fourth. He then retired the first two men in the top of the fifth, before allowing a single and a walk. Mason then clutched up and struck out UCLA catcher Jake Hirabayashi on three pitches. Hirabayashi had a rough night behind the dish, sustaining three hits to the head on backswings from Cumberland, had two passed balls, one ball fouled off his mask and had to deal with two wild pitches.
"I'm so proud of what he gave us, and he really gutted out that last inning," Esquer said of Mason.
Cal's defense fared quite a bit better, with three plays in the hole by GrandPre and two tough picks at first by Halamandaris. Tenerowicz made a sliding stop on a grounder by Bouchard that scored a run in the top of the sixth, but could have plated two, were it not for Tenerowicz's stop. Celsi made a shoe-top catch in the top of the eighth for the second out, in support of freshman Tanner Dodson, who allowed just a leadoff double and nothing else in his one inning of work.
"You have to give credit to our defense," Mason said. "They were phenomenal tonight. They were amazing. When our defense is good, they'll let me go far, and thankfully, our infield was solid, and I didn't give up too many fly balls, so I let them work a little bit, and Cumby had a hell of a game back there. He was a wall."
Akaash Agarwal worked a scoreless ninth, his second appearance of the season, allowing a two-out walk, and striking out one.
Sophomore righty Jeff Bain (2-1, 3.50 ERA) will pitch on Saturday at 6 p.m., with Mason's spot moved up to Friday, and sophomore lefty Matt Ladrech (2-1, 4.15) will go on Sunday. Ladrech went 7.2 hitless innings in relief of Bain last Saturday against Oregon State in the series finale. Jefferies will not pitch this weekend.
"We're not taking any chances with our guy," Esquer said. "I don't know whether it was calf or lower body stuff, but we're not taking any chances with him. He's too valuable."
The only way he'd pitch is if he "comes to us and says he feels phenomenally better," Esquer said. "Otherwise, we're playing for the big picture. We're fine. Bain will go tomorrow, and if he comes out and does what he can do, we'll support him and take our defense behind him. We've planned for this. That's why we've played those four-game series. We want to have that option."