SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- After dropping two of three this weekend against oregon, and falling from No. 10 in the NCBWA poll to No. 17, California came back with a vengeance against Cal Poly in a Tuesday roadie, saddling the Mustangs with a 7-1 loss behind the first career victory for freshman righty Tanner Dodson.
"His best outing of the year," said head coach David Esquer. "It was a matter of time before he turned the corner. He's got to hold it, but it was a matter of time before we got a chance to see the promise that he has, that we believe in, and tonight was that night. Hopefully he can back it up, and get hot. We need one arm to get hot for us and be able to pitch in crunch time."
Dodson -- who played against Cal Poly starter (and De La Salle alum) Cam Schneider in high school -- easily out-lasted the former Spartan, going 6.0 innings, and scattering four hits, with thee strikeouts.
Dodson commanded all three of his pitches, especially his off-speed, which he was able to throw for strikes to both righties and lefties.
"I was attacking the hitters," Dodson said. "I was able to throw my breaking ball today for a strike, which helped."
Dodson's previous season-long outing was 4.0 innings.
"My pitch count's been up, and I've got two starts under my belt, so I figured to go deeper than my last start," said Dodson, who lowered his ERA from 4.22 to 3.29. "I expected at least six, so that's good. I was throwing strikes and let my defense work for me, so that always helps."
Dodson got the benefit of two double plays on the evening, and made a slick play himself on a hot shot back up the middle to start an inning-ending twin killing in the bottom of the fourth.
The Bears (20-9) got Dodson out to a big lead in the top of the fourth, scoring six runs on four hits and a costly error by Mustangs shortstop Kyle Marinconz.
Sophomore catcher Brett Cumberland -- who on Tuesday was added to the Bench Award Watch List for the top catcher in college baseball -- got the first of his two hits on the frame with a double to right center, above the 385-foot sign, just missing his 11th home run of the season to lead off the inning.
First baseman Nick Halamandaris then dumped the second pitch he saw from Schneider into center, moving Cumberland to third. Hot-hitting second baseman Robbie Tenerowicz drew a walk, loading the bases and spelling the end for Schneider.
Austin Dondanville then came in, and promptly hit right fielder Denis Karas in the left thigh, bringing home a run. Right fielder Devin Pearson -- who was hit three times in the finale against Oregon -- then sent the fourth pitch he saw to short, but Marinconz booted the ball, allowing Halamandaris to come around to score.
Lefty Thomas Triantos then came on, and promptly allowed a 2-1 ground ball single through the right side by center fielder Aaron Knapp to plate two more, giving the Bears junior 17 RBIs on the season. A walk to Mitchell Kranson loaded the bases again, after a steal of second by Knapp (his ninth), and then up stepped Cumberland, who flipped around to the right side of the plate and sent an 0-2 ground ball single through the right side to plate two more runs.
"We had a snafu with the bus, and got here an hour before the game, didn't take batting practice, barely took infield, and a little adversity, I was really proud with how they handled that," Esquer said. "They didn't complain. They weren't about to use that as a crutch. They expected to come out here and play well, and did a nice job tonight."
The Mustangs (19-12) sent seven men to the mound, with only Schneider -- who hadn't thrown in more than two weeks -- going more than 1.2 innings, throwing 2.1 and taking the loss.
"That can catch you a little bit, and it's hard to get any rhythm going," said Esquer, whose Bears only tallied five hits. "But, we had that one big inning, and got another run. It was a good win. It was a tough win. We haven't won those tough ones, recently. The tough ones have been going the other way. To score seven, I thought it was a lot tougher with five hits. We had to grind some runs out there, hit a couple balls hard with two strikes and capitalize on an error."
Preston GrandPre led off the top of the sixth by putting a charge into a 3-2 offering from reliever Craig Colen, hitting off the top of the wall in left for his first triple of the season. He then rode home on the paradoxically more-well-hit sacrifice fly off the bat of Pearson, to left center.
"That's about as good as it's going to get," Esquer smiled. "The wind was blowing out that way."
After a strong seventh, striking out two with a filthy breaking ball, freshman reliever Aaron Shortridge got into trouble in the bottom of the eighth, allowing two walks before senior Keaton Siomkin took over.
"We're searching for guys that can help us, so there was a little bit of a, 'Hey, if he sits down and gets back up, can he repeat it?' Not this time, but we need to have that from another guy, too," Esquer said of Shortridge.
Siomkin allowed a bleeder of a single through the left side to Josh Olivarra, before retiring the next three to end the threat. Siomkin bounced back from a rough weekend to strike out five in 2.0 innings of work. Against Oregon, Siomkin gave up three runs on three hits in one third of an inning.
"I think we felt like he needed to get back out there and extend a little bit, and kind of flush the outing," Esquer said. "A couple years ago, this is where he injured himself, and to come back to the scene of the crime was kind of nice."
Daulton Jefferies Update
Cal's 6-0 ace Daulton Jefferies made the bus trip down to Cal Poly, and will likely make the trip this weekend to Tempe as the Bears visit Arizona State, but he's still on the shelf.
"He threw a little bit today," Esquer said. "Everything's kind of progressing forward. Probably not this weekend."
Jefferies, before the Friday night tilt against UCLA, was scratched because of tightness in his lower right leg. He has not pitched since.
"He was able to play some catch," Esquer said of Jefferies's Tuesday. If it were the last two weeks of the season, Jefferies could gut it out, Esquer said, but Cal does not need him to go just yet.
"The arm's out of shape right now," Esquer said. "He's shut down because we don't want him to compromise any parts of the delivery. His arm's probably not in shape to pitch, as we stand right now. For him to play a little catch today was a step forward."
Esquer did not know how the injury occurred, "not at all," and it is certainly vexing for Cal, which now embarks on the second half of Pac-12 play, with the Sun Devils, Arizona, Washington, Stanford and Utah still remaining, as well as a four-game trip to Northwestern.
"Coming off of the [Oregon State] start with a complete game, his pitch count wasn't ridiculous," Esquer mused.