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Cal head coach David Esquer brings his young Bears down to his old stomping grounds at Pepperdine for a three-game series

David Esquer and California return to Pepperdine for a three-game weekend set under the sun.

California will still be without junior lefty Matt Ladrech heading into this weekend's three-game set against Pepperdine (6-4), but over the early goings of this season, the Bears have begun to develop some of their younger arms, including the freshman righty replacing Ladrech on Sunday: Rogelio Reyes. It's one of the youngest teams Esquer has ever fielded in Berkeley, with not a single upperclassman starting in the field (shortstop Preston GrandPre went down with a broken hand before the season began), and on Friday at 2 p.m., he'll bring them against a Pepperdine team that took two of three at perennial power Rice last weekend.

This trip down to Malibu will be Esquer's second since he coached for the Waves as hitting coach and recruiting coordinator from 1997-99. He made a trip back his first year at the helm in Berkeley, with Xavier Nady and Mike Tonis, but not since.

"Gosh, my experience there was pure joy," said Esquer. "I loved my time there. I loved my kids that I worked with. Eric Valenzuela was one of those. I loved the culture. I loved what they allowed me to do with them, to push them, to push them hard and really be demanding and come to practice the next day with just enthusiasm."

Scenic Eddy D. Field Stadium sits in a notch in the Malibu hills, overlooking a stand of palm trees and the Pacific Ocean. It's an idyllic setting, though one without lights. Cal will open on Friday with a 2 p.m., start, then play at 1 p.m., on Saturday, and 1 p.m., again, on Sunday. 

http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1760207-vaughn-goes-yard-i... "The ocean, I'd drive down Malibu Canyon, and as it worked its way around, it opens up to the Pacific Ocean, and some days, I'd just laugh to myself, like, 'Come on, I work here?'" Esquer said. "Being at Coogies down there and seeing film stars out there, you're like, 'Come on!'"

All the coaches Esquer coached with at Pepperdine are now gone, with former head coach Frank Sanchez having retired due to medical hardship in 2003. Even head coach Rick Hirtensteiner, who's been at Pepperdine for 17 years, did not cross over with Esquer. Without any contacts down in Malibu, the series came about organically.

"To be honest, we were really strapped for scheduling," Esquer said. "They had an opening, we had an opening. They may have had a cancellation, but we just had a hole, and we needed to fill it."

In order to build camaraderie for his young team, Esquer and the Bears drove down to southern California on Thursday.

"I like the bus," he said. "I like the camaraderie piece of it. The part that I feel good about is the culture in our program, which is a working culture, passed down from year to year, and I have a lot of confidence about the amount of work our guys are willing to put in."

While GrandPre can only sit and watch, and impart his wisdom to a pair of young shortstops -- Anthony Walters and Cameron Eden -- he's going to have to fight to get back in the lineup once he gets healthy. Eden is hitting .385 to lead all regulars (eight starts, 11 games), while Walters is hitting .286, having started all 11 games.

Recently, powerful freshman Max Flower -- an elite receiver in high school for Moraga (Calif.) Campolindo -- has begun to solidify a claim to one of the outfield spots, hitting .357 in seven games, starting two last weekend. While the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder hasn't gone yard yet, he has shown his speed, socking a triple against Gonzaga. Flower's fellow outfielder, sophomore Jeffrey Mitchell, has provided the power, hitting .319 with two home runs -- both to the opposite field -- with a team-high eight RBIs.

Center fielder Jonah Davis hasn't shown the power he was expected to just yet, but is coming around at the plate, hitting .302, and leads the Pac-12 with five stolen bases. Mitchell is just behind, with three. Davis is among 11 Bears who call southern California home, including super-utility man Matt Ruff and closer Erik Martinez (0-1, 1.42 ERA, 1 save).

The Waves are led by senior outfielder Matt Gelalich, who made 40 starts last season and hit .275 with two home runs. This season, Gelalich is hitting .379. Redshirt sophomore first baseman Ben Rodriguez is hitting .294, leading Pepperdine with eight RBI in 10 games -- the only Waves player to have seen action in all games thus far.

On the mound, left-hander Ryan Wilson has anchored the Waves' staff on Fridays and carries a 1-1 record and 1.53 ERA into the weekend. 

PROBABLE STARTERS

Friday, March 10, 2 p.m.
Cal: RHP Tanner Dodson (0-3, 3.78 ERA)
Pepperdine: LHP Ryan Wilson (1-1, 1.53)

Saturday, March 11, 1 p.m.
Cal: RHP Jared Horn (0-1, 6.23)
Pepperdine: RHP Max Gamboa (1-1, 6.32)

Sunday, March 12, 1 p.m.
Cal: RHP Rogelio Reyes (1-1, 5.59)
Pepperdine: RHP Wil Jensen (1-1, 4.32)


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