BERKELEY -- After being walked twice and striking out with the bases loaded on Saturday, and being walked again in the first inning on Sunday against Utah, California catcher Brett Cumberland came up with the bases juiced and no outs in the bottom of the second, with no place for the Utes to put him.
Cumberland -- who's dealt with being pitched around for much of the second half of the season, acknowledging that sometimes, he only sees one or two pitches to hit per game -- got that one pitch (a hanging slider) from starter Dalton Carroll, smoking a two-run single off the lip of the infield grass and away from second baseman Kody Davis, breaking a 1-1 tie and sending Cal well on its way to a 9-2 win over the first-place Utes, with a three-run second.
"We were waiting to play well again here, in league," said head coach David Esquer. "The week off [against Northwestern] we played well, but it's not the team that's leading our league right now, so I think they needed to just relax a little bit. I think they're pressing. They want it so bad, and a few of the guys think that their mistake may cost us a game, a season, and they put a lot of pressure on themselves. They just need to relax and just let it happen."
The Bears (30-19, 12-14 in Pac-12), for the second straight day, got a clutch caught-stealing from Cumberland in -- erasing Josh Rose in the top of the second. He's thrown two runners out over the last two nights, each by more than 10 feet.
"I've been working on footwork, doing a lot of work with B.K. [Santy], and he's helped me out a lot," said Cumberland. "Working with him and trying to keep my footwork consistent and everything."
Also, for the second straight day, Mitchell Kranson tallied an outfield assist, ending the top of the fourth by hosing Utah first baseman Hunter Simmons at the plate.
"I didn't know I had him," Kranson said. "I just tried to throw it as hard as I could, and it ended up going right to Cumby's glove. I think it was infield mechanics, because it was just like trying to field a ground ball."
The throw from Kranson helped freshman starter Tanner Dodson wriggle off the hook after allowing a leadoff double, a walk and a wild pitch, as well as a slow chopper to first by Rose that went off the glove of a slipping Nick Halamandaris Halamandaris and into the infield grass to score a run.
The Cal first baseman, though, more than made up for that. In the first, he worked a 3-1 walk to plate a run, and then came up with a two-run double in the bottom of the fourth. Halamandaris laced a 2-1 offering into the left field corner and off the glove of a diving Andre Jackson to score Cumberland and Devin Pearson, aboard on a bouncing leadoff double up the third base line.
"He has good stuff, and he's a good pitcher, but he might not have had the best feel tonight," Halamandaris said of Carroll. "He let a few balls get away from him. Pretty hard-throwing righty with some tail, a two-seam away from us, and I thought we had some pretty mature at-bats to see a few pitches, take some pretty good balls and then barrel up the balls we could handle. Last night, we weren't able to barrel up that many balls, and that's a tip of the cap to him, and also, a matter of us figuring out, today, and thankfully, we did."
Halamandaris then chased Utah reliever Joshua Tedeschi in the bottom of the sixth with a mammoth two-run home run -- his fifth of the season -- to left, driving home Cumberland, who reached with a one-out knuckling liner to left one batter earlier.
The two-time Pac-12 All-Academic senior finished the evening 2-for-4 with a run and four RBIs.
"I couldn't be prouder of any player I've had," Esquer said of Halamandaris, who's dealt with injuries each of the last two years. "He's come out the other side through a lot of adversity, but he's playing well in big games against tough people, and he's doing it at the highest level, so it's good to see him going."
Dodson earned his fourth win of the season, scattering eight hits over 6.1 innings with two walks and two strikeouts, but couldn't navigate the seventh. The frame started with near-disastrous groundout to the right side, which saw Dodson cross the baseline and flip a grounder by Rose to a surprised Halamandaris, who dropped the ball, but picked it up in time to record the out. Catcher Zack Moeller then chopped a single through the left side, and Kody Davis ripped a 2-2 single back up the middle.
Dodson was lifted for Keaton Siomkin, who needed just five pitches to record the next two outs, and added two strikeouts in the eighth. one in the top of the ninth, and got two stellar plays to end the game, with the offensive star of the evening, Halamandaris, backhanding a spinning grounder behind the bag, flipping to Siomkin for the second out, and Preston GrandPre, who went 2-for-5 with a double, snaring a liner from Davis to end the game.
"That looked like early-season form with that change up," Esquer said. "It was as good as we've seen it in a long time. He looked fresh, had good angle to it. It was a good performance. He pitched well at Northwestern, as well, but that was as good as he's pitched in league in a long time."
"I've been using it all year, and it's been one of my better pitches, especially to lefties," Siomkin said of his change up. "Tonight, I've been working on things the last couple weeks. We haven't had any Tuesday games, so it's been nice to get a couple bullpens in, and just got to work on some stuff. It was just on tonight."
With one out in the bottom of the eighth, third baseman Denis Karas socked his fifth home run for the final tally. It was his fourth in his last five games, a solo shot to left to cap off a six-pitch at-bat against reliever Nolan Stouder.
The Bears finish off the series on Monday at 7 p.m., with a cameo appearance from Daulton Jefferies likely.
"We're going to have to find it somewhere, because he has to get his pitches in if he's going to pitch more the next week," Esquer said. "Where that lies, I'm not sure. We could conceivably start him, but at some point, he's got to get 25-30 pitches in, so he can get to 50 pitches the next week."
"That's a possibility," Esquer said. "We're just going to find out what leaves us the best chance to finish the game."