BERKELEY -- A five-run sixth sunk California in Friday's 5-4 loss to No. 6 TCU, but it was the Bears who benefitted from a five-run sixth against the Horned Frogs in the series finale on Saturday, sending 9 men to the plate and breaking a 1-1 tie en route to an 8-3 win. Cal went 7-for-16 with runners on base, and 6-for-10 with runners in scoring position on the day.
"You play these Regional teams, and they feature different strengths in pitching than maybe you've seen," said head coach David Esquer. "I think the shape of their slider is different than what we've seen all year, and I think it caused some adjustments, early on. Some guys were able to do it, and some guys, it mystified all weekend."
Jonah Davis wasn't baffled at all. He went 5-for-12 on the weekend, including a third-inning home run to right that put the Bears on top.
The Horned Frogs scratched across a run in the top of the sixth, at the expense of starter Matt Ladrech, who, as much as he was able to tame TCU bats, was was wild, but effectively so.
"Another lesson: I don't think Matt was extremely sharp at all," said head coach David Esquer. "More balls than strikes, and I guess that's what you would call effectively wild, but we hung in there, just like we did the first two nights. We hung around all three nights; we just did more to win today, obviously. We left the game at third base yesterday a couple times, and the same on [Thursday] night, where we didn't take care of a couple balls to keep the game as close as it really was."
Ladrech threw 86 pitches in 5.2 innings and walking 4. Of his 86 pitches, just 43 were for strikes.
After one of those walks to start the top of the sixth, Ladrech fumbled a sacrifice to the left of the mound, and fired wide to first, putting 2 men on with no outs. A pair of groundouts tied things up at 1-1.
Tanner Dodson -- who made his third highlight reel grab in three games in center -- came on to pitch, setting down third baseman Elliott Barzilli with a slider down and away for his first strikeout of the day, setting the stage for Cal's big frame.
Freshman first baseman Andrew Vaughn sent a one-out, 0-2 offering from right-handed reliever Charles King to the left side, where it glanced off the mitt of a diving Barzilli at third, and into shallow left field, where it was fielded by shortstop Ryan Merrill. Merrill, though, had nowhere to go, as Vaughn pulled into first with a single. Vaughn, who went 0-for-7 over the first two games of the series, went 3-for-4.
Third baseman Denis Karas rolled into what looked to be an inning-ending double play, but Merrill, as he went to flip the ball to second, left it in the dirt at short. With two men on, Dodson -- who had two hits taken away with a diving spear at short and a leaping grab in right, earlier in the game -- took a fastball and sent a rocket to right for a single, loading the bases.
"About time," Esquer is. "Those things weren't happening for us on day one and day two. It was one of those games where things were bouncing our way, but we had to finish it, and we had to make sure that it meant something."
Catcher Tyrus Greene then sent an 0-1 pitch to the left side, off the diving glove of Barzilli and behind a ranging Merrill, into shallow left, bringing two runs around to score.
"The first one, I thought it was a ball, so I was just trying to be aggressive, and he threw a sinker, and I just hit it the other way," said Greene.
Junior second baseman Preston GrandPre, after bending out of the way of a curveball up and in, sent a push bunt up the first base side, which King fielded, but couldn't get off in time, bringing home another run, making it 4-1, Cal. A second squeeze bunt by Max Flower brought home a run, and sandwiched between the two squeezes, freshman shortstop Cameron Eden served a payoff pitch from King into right center to bring home another run.
"I had pulled pretty much all my hits through the six hole all before that," said Eden, who'd been out over his front side most of the weekend. "My approach was being patient, and I wanted to be a little bit more patient, so I got the ball in a little bit, let it get on me a little bit, and just took it the other way."
The Bears (23-28, 13-14 in Pac-12) tacked on another run in the bottom of the seventh, as a leadoff single from Jeffrey Mitchell, a stolen base and an errant throw from catcher Zach Humphreys were cashed in by a 1-0 single to center by Vaughn, giving Cal a 7-1 lead.
TCU (39-14) crept back in the top of the eighth, as Dodson allowed back-to-back singles to start the frame. A full-count sacrifice fly by slugger Evan Skoug moved a runner to third, and an inside-out slicing single to right by Cam Warner cut the lead to 5. While earlier in the year, Dodson would have let the inning get away from him, he served up a grounder to third for a run-scoring out. After throwing two straight balls to Barzilli, Dodson got a visit from Cal pitching coach Thomas Eager.
"At first, I thought, he's been dealing with a bit of a blister, so I went out there to see if he was good with it today, and then, it was, 'Hey, just relax,'" Eager said. "Just keep it down and don't try to over-do anything. He came back, fired a couple strikes and got out of it."
Dodson settled down and set Barzilli down with some soft stuff away, getting the strikeout to end the frame and holding the Horned Frogs at bay.
"I think I'm just mature a little more," Dodson said. "I'm taking it easy and letting my defense work instead of just trying to strike everyone out."
A two-out solo home run Eden -- his sixth of the year -- in the bottom of the eighth gave Cal some much-needed breathing room. Eden finished the day 3-for-4, matching Vaughn's day to lead Cal's 14-hit attack. On the series, Eden went 6-for-9 with a home run and 4 runs scored.
"It did a lot, even one run makes you feel so much more confident when you're going out to just get three outs," Eden said. "It's never easy getting three outs, and having as many runs as possible as a cushion is pretty good."
The Bears nearly got another insurance run, when a towering drive to center by Davis bounced up and under the batter's eye, before bouncing back into play. Flower -- aboard with a walk -- had come around to score, but was instead sent back to third as Davis's hit was ruled a ground-rule double. A ground out to first ended the frame, stranding both men in scoring position.
"You had to prove that you were going to keep scoring," Esquer said. "To be honest, I was a little worried that the run came off the board, that the ball went underneath the batter's eye and came back into play. We have the only batter's eye that blows forward, so it bounces underneath it, and then hit the structure behind it and came back."
Dodson got into a bit more trouble in the top of the ninth, but when Eager came out to the mound after two seeing-eye singles -- one that GrandPre sprawled out to stop behind the second base bag and had to eat, and another over his head that he tried to turn into an out at second, only to throw wide.
"Those two plays, the first was a crazy play that if you have your wits about you, and you may get the lead out at second," Esquer said. "In the past, it might have bothered [Dodson], and he may have said, 'Well, shoot, I may have to do it myself,' and sometimes when he feels that way, he goes into strikeout mode, and that doesn't help anybody."
"The second time, I went out there and told GrandPre and our infield: You guys need to relax," Eager said. "They're just looking at me, and I didn't say a word to Dodson. I just wanted to give him a breather, told him to make his pitches and get out of it, and, the rest of us, just relax a little bit. 'We've got a lead, Tanner's throwing the crap out of the ball. We've got nothing to worry about. Just make a play when it's hit to you, and let's go.'"
Dodson fanned right fielder Austin Wade with an off speed offering, and then got a groundout to second, right at GrandPre, to end the game, and the home schedule. Dodson earned the win, his second of the season, to move to 2-5.
The Bears now head to Tucson to face No. 15 Arizona, in the final series of the season. That series will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks on Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30 p.m.