BERKELEY -- California, which fell out of the USA TODAY Coaches Poll before the weekend, continues to fall, dropping its fourth straight series -- and fourth of five since losing ace Daulton Jefferies -- with a 7-4 defeat on Sunday at the hands of visiting Washington.
"We got what we deserved," said head coach David Esquer. "Everything magnifies."
The Bears (24-16, 10-11 in Pac-12) kept things close throughout, but a two-run error by reliever Jeff Bain on a swinging bunt up the first base line by Gage Matuszak widened the margin in the top of the ninth. After walking the bases loaded, Bain ran to field the ball on the grass right next to the dirt, but instead of fielding and throwing to first, as he scooped the ball to pick it up and tag Matuszak running by, he bobbled the ball away, allowing two runs to score.
Cal found some magic in the bottom of the ninth, with a bad-hop infield single off the bat of senior Brian Celsi, a pop-fly single to shallow right by Aaron Knapp and a catch-'em-napping bunt single to the left side by Preston GrandPre to load the bases with no outs. A ground ball single through the left side by senior Devin Pearson got the Bears to within three runs.
A scalded liner to left by Robbie Tenerowicz was too well-hit to plate Knapp on a sacrifice fly, so Knapp had to hold, but the throw in was way off line, and Knapp froze.
"I don't know if he was afraid of making a mistake, but he froze," Esquer said. "Once that ball started rolling towards the backstop, there's nobody who's going to get anybody, and we've got second and third and one out, but that's how we're playing: We're shooting ourselves in the foot, a lot."
"I don't think we'd ever press. Our guys, we have too many senior leaders on our team to press. Our leaders are too good to ever let us press. We're just grinding." -- Sophomore catcher Brett Cumberland
The ball got away from the third baseman, but Knapp still did not run, despite third base coach Brad Sanfilippo sending him.
"That two-run error there in the ninth, not moving up on that overthrow, that changes the inning," Esquer said. "That's 90 feet, we go second and third and down by two. They probably walk [Brett] Cumberland, which is fine, and then you've got the tying run at second base."
Cumberland and senior third baseman Mitchell Kranson were due up -- each hitting well over .300 with a combined 63 RBIs and 16 home runs -- but Cumberland struck out swinging on four pitches.
"I think I swung through a fastball low, and then he threw a ball and then another strike, and then a fastball away and I just swung through it," Cumberland said. "It's never a good feeling when you have an opportunity to do something, and you don't do anything. It's going to ride on me a little bit."
Kranson then sent a grounder to deep second, but Jordan Levi was positioned on the outfield grass, making the play easily to end the game.
"Great job of setting their defense," Esquer said. "That's unfortunate."
The Bears left nine runners on base throughout the afternoon, while five different Huskies came up with RBIs, as Washington got leadoff men on base in seven of the nine innings.
"That," Esquer said, "was the difference in the game. We don't have anybody unless Cumberland hits that homer, until the ninth. We had opportunities. They proved to be a better team. They had more guys come up in spots to drive in runs. We're waiting on Cumberland to hit a home run."
Cumberland did slug his 12th home run of the year -- his third from the right side and his first since April 19 -- in the bottom of the third to tie things up at 3-3.
"He threw me a bunch of fastballs, and I was able to take advantage of one," Cumberland said of his three-run job in the bottom of the third.
It was only his second hit in 11 at-bats on the series, though, and Cumberland now has just 4 hits in his last 24 at-bats.
"I think I would have rather gone 1-2-3 in the ninth than have to stomach that last inning," Esquer said. "We're leaking oil a little bit. I think obviously not having your No. 1, each week, it leaks a little bit more, and bleeds you a little bit more. It seems like the last two weekends, as we come into the Sunday gam, we're thinner than you'd like to be."
Righty Alex Schick came on for one batter in the ninth, after Bain's miscue, and used a mix of 91-94 mph fastballs and 80-82 curveballs to strike out left fielder K.J. Brady to strand two in front of half a dozen Major League scouts.
"His arm strength looked way better," Esquer said. "He's coming on, and if we can finish strong these last nine games, I think our resumé is pretty strong. We've got to earn it, and we've got to deserve it. Most teams in our league, we've got to finish at least 15-15 to deserve it. That means we've got to go at least 5-4."
With Utah (16-22 overall) still in first place in the Pac-12 (11-6 in league play) headed into today, the conference does not look like it will get more than four or five bids into the postseason, something of which Esquer is keenly aware.
"We've got to be concerned," Esquer said. "We were in pretty good position, just to get your wins and we'd be there, but I think our resumé beyond this, how we're doing in league -- and we've got to right the ship and finish strong in league -- our non-league resumé is pretty good. I thought the Tuesday wins versus Cal Poly were big, just as far as where they stand in their conference and who they've beaten, but we've got to deserve it. As we get healthier and Schick and the Jefferies -- if he's pitching at all by the end of the year -- we expect him, at some point, we could be a tough out in a Regional."
The Mustangs, it should be noted, just got swept by Long Beach State (26-16).
Going from being a preseason pick to go to Omaha by many observers, to "a tough out in a Regional" is a long way to fall, a pill made tougher to swallow by the fact that Jefferies may not even start another regular season game until the final regular season series at Washington State.
"He threw again today, and I think Thomas [Eager]'s plan is to get him off a mound this week," Esquer said. "Probably not Stanford, but maybe by Northwestern, 20 pitches to start with, and then you go 40, 60."
The Bears next face struggling Stanford (20-18, 8-10) starting on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Sunken Diamond.