Appropriately enough for St. Patrick's Day weekend, the California baseball team will host emerald-clad Oregon this weekend for a three-game set to open Pac-12 play. Friday's game will be Cal's first Irish Heritage Night, with student group dancers performing throughout the night. The Ducks are coming off a 2016 season which saw them not go dancing for the first time since 2011.
Oregon has won six straight, and owns wins over two ranked teams -- UC Irvine (No. 25 in Collegiate Baseball) and San Diego (No. 26 in Collegiate Baseball, No. 25 in NCBWA). The Ducks own a 26-25 all-time record against the Bears.
After a lost weekend in Lubbock, Tex., against No. 8 Texas Tech, Cal has come back and win six of their last eight, including a road sweep of then-No. 25 Pepperdine. During the weekend in Malibu, Calif., the Bears scored 18 runs on 31 hits, with five home runs.
Cal (8-7) lead the Pac-12 in home runs (12) and is second to Arizona -- the league's leading offense -- in stolen bases (22). Jonah Davis -- the No. 15 pro prospect in the Pac-12, according to D1Baseball.com -- leads the Bears with 7 thefts. To put that into perspective, Cal's season leader in stolen bases last season was Aaron Knapp, who stole 10. Knapp stole 12 in 57 games 2015, and Devin Pearson stole 11 in 45 games in 2014, and seven to pace the team in 2013. Davis also leads the team with 10 runs scored, with Vaughn tied for second with nine.
Oregon is 11-for-19 on the season in stolen bases, but running against sophomore catcher Tyrus Greene throwing out all six of 12 runners who have tried to steal on him, including two against Pepperdine last weekend.
Cal has bounced back from a rough start with but a single upperclassman -- Denis Karas (.270, 2 HR, 7 RBI) -- in the everyday starting lineup, and not a single upperclassman in the starting rotation.
This weekend against the Ducks will be no different, as junior lefty Matt Ladrech is still on the shelf with a forearm injury. Last weekend, the Bears' young rotation truly got in-sync, with freshman Jared Horn fanning eight in 6.2 innings of work in a 3-2 win on Saturday, and sophomore righty Joey Matulovich spinning a complete game against the Waves, striking out 10. It was the first complete game by a Cal starter since Ryan Mason turned in a 9.0-inning effort against the Ducks last season -- the Bears' only win in a three-game set up in Eugene, Ore.
Freshman Andrew Vaughn has been a revelation at first base, and has been the cornerstone of the lineup. Vaughn is sitting on a 12-game hitting streak, and has at least two base hits in each of his last six. During those last six games, Vaughn is hitting a scalding .500 (13-for-26) with 2 home runs and 8 RBIs.
Vaughn is 15th in the Pac-12 in batting (.343), while infielder Cameron Eden is making things hard on injured junior shortstop Preston GrandPre, who will have to fight for a lineup spot once he returns from a broken hand, suffered before the first series of the season. Eden is ninth in the Pac-12 in hitting (.390) and 10th in slugging (.561), playing left field, second base and short. The final piece to the 2016 signing class, out of Yuba City, Calif., tagged his first collegiate home run in the finale against Pepperdine, and is sitting on a six-game hitting streak of his own. During that stretch, Eden has gone 12-for-23, with 8 runs scored and 2 stolen bases.
Also making some noise is sophomore outfielder Jeffrey Mitchell, who is hitting .311 with 3 doubles, 2 home runs and 9 RBIs -- second on the team to Vaughn -- and a .459 slugging percentage
The Ducks (11-4) will be bringing a relatively experienced pitching staff into Berkeley this weekend, headed by junior lefty David Peterson (3-1, 3.20 ERA). Oregon is second in the Pac-12 in pitching, with a 2.55 ERA, and pace the league in strikeouts with 145, walking just 30 -- the fewest in the conference. Opposing teams are hitting .235 against the Ducks, who have allowed seven home runs on the year -- tied for fourth-most in the Pac-12.
As Cal's starting rotation rounds into form, the Bears have gotten some quality relief from the bullpen, particularly from newcomer lefties Zayne Patino and Arman Sabouri. Patino helped nail things down on Tuesday against Minnesota, and in 11 innings this season, holds a 1.64 ERA. Sabouri is third among Cal relievers, with a 3.24 ERA in 8.2 innings of work.
Oregon will bring a team that is ninth in the Pac-12 in hitting (.259), but still boasts some pesky bats. Left-handed hitting Kyle Kasser. The junior third baseman is hitting .345 in 15 games, with 7 RBIs, 2 doubles, 1 home run and 8 walks -- tied for second in the Pac-12. The Ducks are a speed-ball team, and, as always under head coach George Horton, will use speed -- hit and runs, stolen bases, bunts -- to score, which will test the Bears' young infield.
Behind Peterson -- the Pac-12 strikeouts leader (40) who will match up with two-way athlete Tanner Dodson (1-3, 3.74) at 7:05 p.m., on Friday -- will be sophomore righty Matt Mercer. Mercer, eighth in the Pac-12 in ERA (2-1, 1.54) went 2-2 with a 4.28 ERA in 40 innings last year, including five starts in 16 appearances. Mercer will square off against Horn, who turned the corner this weekend after three disappointing outings to start his collegiate career. That Saturday contest will start at 6:05 p.m.
On Sunday, without Ladrech, Matulovich will get the nod, facing off against Ducks sophomore lefty Cole Stringer (2-0, 2.45), who's building on a freshman campaign where he went 2-2 with a 3.81 ERA in 26 innings. That Sunday game will begin at 1:05 p.m. That game will feature a Colleges Against Cancer table down the third base line, in conjunction with the Strike Out Cancer effort.