BERKELEY -- Two years ago, Akaash Agarwal was just a student on the California campus. He'd tried to make the Cal baseball team as a freshman, with no luck. On Tuesday, he was the winning pitcher in No. 20 Cal's 5-4 win over Cal Poly.
"I give the kid a lot of credit: He really has persevered," said head coach David Esquer. "He did not make the roster, and came back and kept trying. I'll be honest: I don't think we had many plans on using him, even this year, but he is just kind of always there, and we need some left-handed pitching, and we gave him a chance, he looked OK, give him another chance and he looks OK, and that's a tribute to him."
Agarwal, a second-team all-league performer in 2012 and an Under Armour Preseason All-American in 2013, had gotten into Berkeley, academically, out of St. Paul's School in Concord, N.H., an English-style boarding school he attended while his father, a business consultant, traveled all over the country.
"Contrary to popular belief, boarding school is not for the clinically insane," laughed Agarwal. "Boarding school is just for kids who want to grow, and it's an academic and athletic challenge. We were moving around a lot at the time, and it offered me a place of stability for high school."
Before coming to Berkeley, the Philadelphia native had spoken to former pitching coach Mike Neu for several months, and Neu had seen Agarwal pitch several times, but, that first year out West, with a stocked bullpen, Cal didn't have a place for him. He didn't let that stop him.
"I was recruited by a few schools, but none that really worked out, so Mike told me, once I got in, that he wanted me to come out for the fall, and see how I played," Agarwal said. "It didn't go the way I wanted to. Last year, I sort of did the bare minimum last year. I scraped by, but I have to thank the coaches for keeping faith in me, throughout the fall, and giving me the chance to be on the team, and giving me a chance to be a part of this brotherhood. That's the biggest thing that I want to be a part of: The team and the culture."
Last season, Agarwal made the team out of fall ball, but didn't make a single appearance.
"This is a little bit surreal at times, but it's where I want to be." -- Akaash Agarwal
Over the last week, he's made three appearances, not allowing a single hit or run, becoming an unexpected contributor out of the bullpen for the as-of-late pitching-starved Bears.
With Daulton Jefferies still a ways away from returning, and Ryan Mason having missed his first ever start this past weekend, the Bears needed that extra hand. On Tuesday, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound southpaw earned his that first win with 1.2 innings of shutout relief. The last three outings Agarwal has had, he's thrown 2.2 hitless, scoreless innings.
"It feels good," Agarwal said. "I'm just grateful for the opportunity, grateful for coach [Thomas] Eager just giving me the chance to be out there, and he's kept faith in me. This is a little bit surreal at times, but it's where I want to be. I love being out there and being able to pitch for the guys that are behind me.:
On Tuesday, in the top of the fifth, Agarwal entered in relief of Jordan Talbot, two men on, one out, and the Bears down, 2-1.
After getting ahead of third baseman Michael Sanderson, 0-2, he induced a fly ball to center, scoring center fielder Brett Barbier, but then quickly got left fielder Kevin Morgan to fly out to center.
After walking pinch hitter Josh Olivarria to start the top of the sixth, Agarwal rolled up a 4-6-3 double play on one pitch to first baseman Cooper Moore, and then got a fly out to right off the bat of second baseman Brett Binning, who had earlier shut down the bottom of the fourth for Cal, making a leaping stop on a bouncer up the middle by Brett Cumberland and then making a backhand flip with his glove to start an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.
In the bottom of the sixth, for just the ninth time in the Bears' last 37 innings, Cal got its leadoff man aboard, as senior Brian Celsi sent a slow roller to second for an infield single. After center fielder Aaron Knapp flied out to center (he's had just one hit in his last 17 at-bats), second baseman Robbie Tenerowicz blasted his second home run in four days and his fourth of the season -- a two-run shot to left -- to tie the game at 3-3.
"I couldn't tell whether it was a fastball or a change up, but it was down the middle," Tenerowicz said. "I think I could have hit that out with my eyes closed."
After a groundout by Mitchell Kranson, Cumberland crushed a first-pitch double off the base of the wall in left. First baseman Nick Halamandaris then sent a hot shot inside the first base line and past a diving Moore to bring home Cal's switch-hitting catcher, giving Cal a 4-3 lead.
"We've challenged [Knapp] to give us what w need, and what we need is production," Esquer said. "What we need is a spark. We need someone who ignites our offense and takes pride in kind of getting the offense started. We need someone who takes pride in that, and I've challenged Aaron to be that guy for us, or we need to find someone."
The Bears tacked on a much-needed insurance run in the bottom of the seventh, when Devin Pearson -- aboard with a leadoff hit-by-pitch (his second on the day, and 13th on the season) -- rode home on a curve banged up the middle for a single by Celsi.
While the Bears offense finally got going, closer Erik Martinez continued his return to form, getting the Mustangs in order in the top of the seventh and the top of the eighth. After getting a groundout to first to lead off the top of the ninth, though, Martinez allowed a fly-ball double down the left field line to Moore, and a single up the middle by pinch hitter Dylan Doherty, before exiting in favor of Keaton Siomkin.
With pinch runner Ben Polshuk at first, shortstop Kyle Marinconz sent a sinking liner to right. Celsi charged in, and flashed his glove, forcing Polshuk to hold at second in case Celsi made the catch. The subterfuge worked, as Celsi fired to second after the ball landed, recording the force out as Moore scored from third. A pop out to Celsi by catcher Nick Meyer ended Cal Poly's win streak, and ended the Bears' three-game losing skid.
"It lets us know that we can still win a ballgame," said Tenerowicz. "Saturday, we should have won -- I mean, we did win the game, but to come out and then give up a run or two, we were down early, it does take a lot to come back on a Tuesday. A Tuesday isn't the easiest day to get fired up for, especially when it's not Stanford or something like that -- it's Cal Poly -- so to come back from that the way we did, with four, five, six pitchers, good defense, timely hitting -- basic baseball stuff that we've been missing for a while -- that's big."
"That was a huge win for us," said Esquer, whose squad is now 2-0 against the Mustangs, who entered the rankings for the first time since the preseason of 2015. "I told the team, a couple years ago, Irvine was the last team in the tournament field, and what it came down to was they won two Tuesdays over USC. Cal Poly has done a great job -- they swept Santa Barbara, and they beat Fullerton two out of three -- and if our only relationship to those two teams is us having beaten Cal Poly, that's big on your resume, and we need that."
• Martinez -- who recorded seven straight saves to start the season -- had allowed eight runs over a three-outing, 6.0-inning stretch, but over his last there outings, he's allowed just two runs in 8.0 innings. Though he couldn't quite finish off his eighth save, his 2.1 innings were encouraging.
"He had felt a little dead arm even through Arizona State, and just before -- no pain, but it just felt like he had a heavy arm," Esquer said. "The velocity wasn't necessarily down, but the life wasn't there. It's much more like he's been pitching throughout the season [now], and much like our team, that has to go through a little rough patch and come out the other side, he's already done that."
• Tenerowicz hit .182 last season (24-for-132), and just .168 (18-for-107) as a freshman, but this season, is hitting .314, going 2-for-4 on Tuesday. Over the last four games, he's 8-for-18 (.444) with two doubles, two home runs and eight RBIs. He has 26 hits in his last 17 games, and is currently on a team-best five-game hitting streak.
"The thing that I'm happy about is I think many times, they're mistake homers," Esquer said. "He's going for a hit, and he squares it up and gets a little angle of elevation to it. Before, I think it was the opposite -- he was trying for all homers, and every now and then would get a hit."
The Daulton Jefferies of it All
Without two of their three weekend starters against Arizona, the Bears had to piece together not only the Pac-12 series, but Tuesday's tilt against the Mustangs, as well, with seven pitchers taking the bump. Freshman Aaron Shortridge took the brunt of the abuse, giving up three hits and one run without getting an out, seeing his ERA balloon to 6.23.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1662594-daulton-jefferies-... "Thomas felt like maybe we were an inning early; we thought Shortridge would give us more than he did," Esquer said. "I think [Eager] felt like he used guys an inning before. Although, I think Akaash kind of helped us, and pitched an inning more than we thought he would pitch."
Jefferies will not pitch this weekend, and will not start next weekend, Esquer said, but he did throw on Tuesday, and "felt the best he's felt," which is, Esquer said, "a shot in the arm."
Esquer said that he doesn't think Jefferies will get up to speed by the time the Stanford series rolls around, on May 5.
"To be honest, when he gets out there, we're probably going to have to pitch him out of the 'pen," Esquer said. "You're going to get 30 pitches, maybe, and then 60, maybe, the next time. It's just hard to throw that out the front. I think we'll pick and choose a spot where it looks like it'll most help us. Obviously, the fact that he's felt good throwing is a good shot in the arm for us."
The Bears will have Mason back on the bump on Friday against Washington, with Huskies starter Noah Bremer -- a 2015 Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American and a 2015 All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention selection looming, with his 4-3 record and 2.34 ERA. Washington is on a four-game winning streak, and has won five of its last seven Pac-12 games.
"We'll go with Mason on Friday, and it looks like Tanner Dodson on Saturday, and then we'll piece it together from there," Esquer said, adding that lefty Matt Ladrech -- after his 7.0-inning, six-strikeout performance on Sunday this past weekend -- will take the hill on Sunday against the Huskies.
"I think Dodson's earned a chance to pitch on the weekend for us," Esquer said. "We'll make the 'pen work the best way it can."
Over Dodson's last four outings, he's lowered his ERA from 4.22 to 2.15, allowing two earned runs nine hits, with seven walks and eight strikeouts in 13.0 innings
Righty Alex Schick started and went 2.0 innings on Tuesday, giving up two hits and one run, with one strikeout, after a disastrous outing on Saturday.
"Early on, the hit him pretty hard, but the second inning was his best inning, yet," Esquer said. He's just got to get his arm in shape, and it's tough, when everyone's had 40 games and you're just getting out there."