Matthew Nielsen / Cal Athletics

Cal strands 9, gives up 10 free bases to Washington in 4-1 series finale loss

Cal drops first series in Seattle against Washington since 2009, drops to 5-15 on the road.

Less than 24 hours after fending off several mid-inning charges by Washington to hold on for a 7-3 win, California couldn't get out of its own way in the series finale against the Huskies, allowing 10 free bases and stranding 9 runners in a 4-1 loss.

It was the first time the Bears (20-21, 12-9 in Pac-12) had dropped a series in Seattle since 2009, and with the loss, fall out of second place in the conference, with first-place Oregon State -- the No. 1 team in the nation -- looming this weekend.

Cal hit into three double plays, including an inning-ending twin killing in the top of the fifth by Pac-12 home run leader Andrew Vaughn, who had two on with one out and a chance to either tie the game or take the lead with one swing of the bat, with the Bears down 3-1.

Cal got up early in the top of the second against the Huskies, with a walk to catcher Korey Lee and a ground ball double inside the bag at third by shortstop Cameron Eden (2-for-4) putting two on with two outs for leadoff man Preston GrandPre (2-for-4). On Washington starter Joe DeMers's first offering to the junior second baseman, he crossed signals with Johnny Bench Award Watch List member Joey Morgan, sending a fastball off his catcher's glove and to the backstop. Lee came home on the passed ball, but after GrandPre walked -- DeMers's fourth in the first two innings -- Cal couldn't capitalize, as right fielder Jeffrey Mitchell grounded out to short to end the frame. 

While the Bears couldn't capitalize on DeMers's wildness, Washington was certainly able to do just that against veteran Cal lefty Matt Ladrech. After allowing a one-out single in the bottom of the second, Ladrech issued a five-pitch walk to left fielder Nick Kahle, and hit center fielder Jack Meggs in the leg to load the bases.

Ladrech fell behind to designated hitter Josh Cushing 2-1, before the redshirt senior sent a deep drive to right, over Mitchell's head and off the wall on one hop. Kahle, though, held up at third, keeping the bases loaded after one run came across. After a fly out to first baseman John Naff for the second out, it looked like Ladrech would wriggle off the hook, but instead, he walked light-hitting second baseman Levi Jordan (.257) on six pitches, forcing another run across and giving the Huskies a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

A leadoff single by Vaughn in the top of the third was erased by a double play, the Bears went down in order in the top of the fourth, and Washington added another run in the bottom of the fourth against reliever Zayne Patino. The junior southpaw issued a one-out walk to Cushing, and then a ground ball single through the right side by Naff. A daring suicide squeeze bunt by Jordan brought Cushing home, giving the Huskies a 3-1 lead.

Cal again got a leadoff man on in the top of the fifth, with Eden's second double, and put men at the corners when a would-be sacrifice bunt by GrandPre wound up staying on the third base line, just an errant clod of dirt away from rolling foul, for an infield single. The Bears tried to press the advantage with what's become a trademark aggressive brand of base running, sending Eden home on a grounder to third by Mitchell. Third baseman Willie Maciver, though, scooped the ball up and threw home, cutting down Eden.

Vaughn, himself, then grounded into an inning-ending double play, just the second he's grounded into this season, and the second in the last three games.

Another leadoff man reached in the top of the seventh, with Lee sending a shot to the left side off of MacIver's glove and into left, but for the third time in five innings, Cal rolled into a double play, with Eden doing the honors. Just after Eden hit into the twin killing, GrandPre ripped a shot between third and short for a single. GrandPre stole second, and moved to third on a weak grounder to short that turned into an infield single for Mitchell.

That spelled the end for DeMers, as freshman righty Leo Nierenberg, a product of Oakland (Calif.) Bishop O'Dowd. It took just two pitches for Nierenberg to retire Santa Rosa (Calif.) Maria Carrillo product Vaughn, who sent an 0-1 breaking ball to right center to end the inning.

Patino went 2.0 innings, allowing one run and one hit with a walk and a strikeout, and after a 1.2-inning Andrew Buckley appearance (1 BB, 1 K, 0 H, 0R), Tanner Dodson came on for the seventh. Dodson allowed a one-out single to center by Jordan, a bunt by shortstop A.J. Graffanino, and then brought Jordan home with a wild pitch and a passed ball.

Ladrech (2-1) took the loss, lasting just 2.1 innings and allowing 2 hits and 2 earned runs, with 3 walks and no strikeouts.

DeMers earned the win, going 6.2 innings and scattering 7 hits, allowing one run, which was unearned. He walked 4 and struck out 3. Nierenberg earned his first career save, going 2.1 innings and striking out 2, hitting one batter while allowing no hits and no walks.

With the series loss, Cal falls to third in the Pac-12, behind the Beavers (34-4, 18-3) and Stanford, who comes to Berkeley for a Saturday-Sunday-Monday series in two weeks' time. Cal is now 5-15 on the road this season, and faces another road Pac-12 series this coming weekend against Oregon State. The Bears will return to Berkeley this Tuesday for a 7:05 p.m. tilt against San Francisco, which beat the Bears 7-2 on the Hilltop last week.

Six of the Cal's final 13 games will be on the road, the Beavers and Cardinal up next, followed by a three-game home series against TCU May 18-20. The Horned Frogs are ranked between No. 3 and No. 5 in the nation in the four major polls. Cal then finishes the season May 26-28 at Hi Corbett Field, against Arizona (27-15, 9-12).


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