BERKELEY -- For the third game in a row, California used a single explosive inning to deliver a knockout punch to Washington State, and for the third game in a row, the Bears started that knockout combo with a light jab.
A runner's interference call on catcher Tyrus Greene -- aboard in the bottom of the third on a leadoff single -- broke up a would-be double play, and set the stage for a four-run frame, which was more than enough behind junior lefty Matt Ladrech. The veteran southpaw, making his second start back -- and first on a weekend -- from a forearm injury that shelved him for a month, was dominant in Cal's 9-5, sweep-clinching win on Sunday at Evans Diamond.
"Between [trainer] Keri [Sotak] and coach [Mike] Blasquez, they've been so great, getting me back out there," Ladrech said. "The body felt good, and I got good plays from my defense, and I was able to get rolling, made a few pitches. I've been lucky enough to be healthy for so long, and it was upsetting, but it put things into perspective, how great it is to be back out there."
Aside from a spot of trouble in the top of the fourth, when he allowed a pair of singles to freshman second baseman Dillon Plew and sophomore catcher Cory Meyer, Ladrech had the best swing-and-miss stuff he's had in his career, using a tumbling change up to slow down bats against his low-80s fastball, and throwing both a sharper, slider-ish curve, and a bigger, looping Uncle Charlie.
"That's a combination that's really good to me," Ladrech said of his fastball-change up mix. "I can go soft away, and then come back with a fastball and maybe go back in, but that's what we've been working on. It's probably not any faster, but it makes it look like that."
Though Greeene said that Ladrech was throwing a bit harder than his normal 82-84-mph range, Ladrech laughed off that suggestion.
"Eh, I don't know; I think by now, you know I probably don't pay much attention to that," Ladrech said.
Ladrech -- who threw just over 40 pitches in his first outing back on Monday -- threw 66 through 4.0 shutout innings on Sunday, striking out four and allowing two hits, without a walk or a run.
"I could go two or three games and not even get four [strikeouts]," said Ladrech, who normally beats up the bat, but has been missing more bats this season, with now 7 strikeouts in 13.1 innings of work. "I'm just trying to get ahead in counts, get some leverage count-wise, and you're able to get to the point where you can make a good pitch. The strikeouts will take care of themselves. I don't personally pay too much attention to it. It's kind of cool, but we did a good job, working with the fastball, and then getting the off-speed after that."
Ladrech will up his pitch count to 80 next weekend.
"He's really got a good plan when he goes out there, when he throws 'pens, and it translates immediately into stuff he's working on and perfecting," said head coach David Esquer. "Hopefully, we can keep him hot, because he's doing a great job."
With the sweep of the Cougars (14-11, 1-5 in Pac-12), the Bears (12-13, 4-5) got the bad taste out of their mouths from a miserable weekend at UCLA, when they let two 4-0 leads slip away into 9-5 and 9-4 losses, before a 20-0 death march last Sunday.
"It was just what we needed," said Greene, who, batting leadoff for the third game in a row, went 3-for-4 with a run and a walk, and his third stolen base in five attempts. "Getting the sweep, it's huge. We were 1-5, and now we're 4-5, so we've got some momentum headed into ASU [next weekend]."
"We just played better," Esquer said. "We pitched a little better, got some hits with runners in scoring position. We played a few games where we've had the same game as our opposition, but just didn't win it. We just didn't come through as often as they did."
On Sunday, Cal went 5-for-13 with runners in scoring position, and 3-for-4 with runners on third and less than two outs. Eight of the Bears' 13 hits came with runners on base, though they did strand 10.
A 4-for-5 day at the plate was also just what the doctor ordered for switch-hitting Tanner Dodson, who drove in three runs with his seventh and eighth doubles of the season. Dodson's day on the mound, though, didn't go as well. In his first inning out of the bullpen since being removed from the weekend starting rotation, Dodson retired the Cougars in order in the top of the seventh on 16 pitches, but then allowed a two-run home run -- Justin Harrer's third of the season -- in the eighth. The ball looked to hit off the bottom of the scoreboard, but the Cal outfielders contended it hit the top of the wall and came back into play.
"We're looking just to make sure that he's gained some confidence, and regains that aggressiveness on the mound," Esquer said. "The first inning, he absolutely did that. The second one, the guy pops it, and whether it was a home run or not -- I don't think it was -- but still, a run was going to score. As long as you keep him athletic and aggressive on the mound and use his athletic ability, sometimes as a starter, you're trying to make sure you go seven [innings]."
Play by Play
Cal staked Ladrech to a 4-0 lead in an unusual fourth inning, which started with Greene's second ringing single of the day off of Washington State lefty starter Cody Anderson. With Greene going, Jeffrey Mitchell -- for the third time in three games, changed the game with a weakly-hit ball. He hit a tapper back up to the mound on a 1-1 offering from Anderson, but with Greene off and running before the pitch, Meyer came out of the crouch, called Anderson off, fielded the ball and fired wide to first, pulling first baseman James Rudkin off the bag.
Pac-12 home run leader Andrew Vaughn then came up and sent what looked like a routine grounder to short, but Greene, crossing in front of Cougars shortstop Andres Alvarez, jumped to avoid the ball, as Alvarez tried to make the turn to second to start a double play. Even though Greene didn't make contact with the ball, he was ruled out on runner's interference, and both Mitchell and Vaughn were called safe. Greene was called for touching the ball, but he said that he did not. "It didn't hit me, but it turned out pretty well for us," Greene said.
"They called that the ball hit him. At the time, knowing that we were trading a double play for one out, I told him I needed him to be limping back to the dugout," Esquer joked.
The interference call actually harmed Washington State -- the team that rule is designed to benefit -- as, instead of a double play and one man on, they faced a two-on, one-out jam. Junior third baseman Denis Karas cashed in, ripped the fifth pitch from Anderson inside the third base line, and under the glove of a diving Shane Matheny for an RBI double. Two pitches later, Dodson yanked a double off the left field wall, just feet inside the foul line, to score another two.
"I thought it was big that that wasn't a double play -- it really did make a difference," Esquer said. "Two outs and one runner on, that kills that inning."
As if the runner interference call wasn't odd enough, Dodson came around to score from second on a groundout by Jonah Davis. The sophomore center fielder sent a high chopper just up the first base line, with Dodson sprinting on first motion. As Plew ranged over to his left, he had to wait on the ball, and with his momentum taking him towards first, that was his only play. Dodson rounded third and came chugging home to score the fourth run of the inning.
Cal shortstop Cameron Eden continued his weekend-long birthday celebration, cracking a two-run double into the left field corner after fouling off three pitches from reliever Colby Nealy. After driving home Ripken Reyes -- who made a scintillating diving snare of a liner in the top of the fifth -- and Max Flower, Eden took third on the throw home, and with Greene at the plate, came home on a wild pitch. Eden, who turned 19 on Friday, finished the day 1-for-4, after going 3-for-8 with a home run, 2 runs scored and 3 RBIs over the previous two games of the series. Greene, batting leadoff for the third game in a row, went 3-for-4 with a run and a walk, and his third stolen base in five attempts.
Washington State got on the board in the top of the eighth on a two-run home run by left fielder Harrer off of Dodson, cashing in a throwing error by Karas that allowed Rudkin to reach. Dodson, though, more than made up for the circuit shot with the stick, slugging his second double with one out and two on in the bottom of the eighth to extend the lead to 9-2.
Dodson was set up for that knock by Greene, who cracked his third line-drive single of the day up the middle to lead off the frame, and went first-to-third on a wild slider low and away to Mitchell. Mitchell and Vaughn walked, and then Karas brought Greene home with a sacrifice fly to center.
The Cougars made things interesting in the top of the ninth, rattling off four straight singles to score two runs against reliever Zayne Patino, before closer Erik Martinez came on and got a run-scoring force out on a bouncer to second. Martinez then a groundout to third on a diving play by Karas to end the game, and the series.
"Three of the hits were with two strikes, where he had broken them down early in the at-bat, and just couldn't finish them off," Esquer said.
Matheny -- the Pac-12's sixth-leading hitter entering the weekend, with a .406 average -- went just 2-for-12 against Cal pitching this weekend, striking out five times. He'd struck out just 10 times in the previous 16 games.
Bears pitchers fanned 20 hitters in the three-game set, while walking 11 (5 of those by Friday starter Jared Horn). Against the Bruins, Cal walked 22 batters and struck out 19. Also a major change from the weekend prior, the Bears committed just 3 errors, after committing 9 against UCLA.
Cal rattled off 37 hits on the weekend, reaching double digits in all three contests. The Bears went 14-for-37 with runners in scoring position over the weekend (.378).
The Bears will take on Stanford on Tuesday at Sunken Diamond at 5:30 p.m., a game which will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks, with Roxy Bernstein and J.T. Snow. Cal will likely start freshman righty Rogelio Reyes (2-2, 5.71 ERA), though they will not stretch any one pitcher out.
"Reyes is available, and then the 'pen," Esquer said. "We won't go any elongated looks out of the bullpen. We don't want anybody to be out for the weekend."
HIGHLIGHTS: CAL SWEEPS WASHINGTON STATE (members)
SATURDAY RECAP: CAL USES SIX-RUN SEVENTH TO DOWN WSU
HIGHLIGHTS: CAL COMES BACK TO BEAT WAZZU (members)
FRIDAY RECAP: CAL CRUSHES COUGS 12-2