California, head coach David Esquer likes to say that his Bears are an ambush-hitting team. After seeing No. 14 Arizona score 8 unanswered runs in Friday's series opener, Cal needed to blindside the Wildcats on Saturday to punch back, and punch back they did.
Saturday's first inning saw the Bears jump on No. 14 Arizona for 5 runs on 5 hits -- all in a row to start off the proceedings -- and while Cal let the Wildcats back into the game, they were able to pull back ahead in the later frames thanks to clutch hitting from freshman first baseman Andrew Vaughn (3-for-5, 2 R, 2 RBIs) and left fielder Jonah Davis (a rather eventful and inventive 1-for-5) for a 9-6 win on Saturday.
"We hit early in the count, and pitchers are going to try to get ahead of us early, and we're usually ready for it," Esquer said. "Right out of the get, that's exactly what happened."
Cal (24-29, 14-15 in Pac-12) pounded out 11 hits on the night, led by a 4-for-5 night from center fielder Tanner Dodson, who scored two and drove in one run, with a sharp single up the middle and through the Arizona shift in the top of the eighth. Dodson also closed things out, getting the final three outs in the bottom of the ninth, recording the final out himself on a shoe-top line drive back at the mound.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1755341-tanner-dodson-is-c... "He's done that two or three times," Esquer said. "I look at how many times he's getting interviewed by the Pac-12 Network, and the fact that he's been able to do both pitch and hit, and really be a factor in the game, I thought he pitched great. He was on top of things and threw a good slider, and has done a great job."
Blow by Blow
The Bears got off to an inauspicious start, if not just plain odd: Cal shortstop Cameron Eden, leading off for the first time this season, ostensibly took a 1-2 slider from Wildcats starter Cameron Ming off the back foot -- the old Frank Robinson shoe polish play. Home plate umpire John Bullock, though, said that the almost literal back-foot slider from Ming was just that -- almost -- and brought Eden back to the plate. One pitch later, Eden flipped a fly-ball single to shallow left. The Bears would go on to hit for a cycle in the first inning -- a 35-pitch frame for Ming.
"He was adamant that he got hit in the foot, but he jammed that ball to center and kind of started it," Esquer said.
Between a double by Jeffrey Mitchell, a first-pitch fastball ripped through the left side by Vaughn, a three-run home run from Denis Karas (tying Vaughn for a Pac-12-leading 12 on the season) over the back wall in left and a Dodson triple cashed in by a fielder's choice from Matt Ruff, the Bears looked more than comfortable to start Saturday's second game of a three-game series with Arizona, but the Wildcats didn't go quietly.
The Wildcats, though, bounced back. Ming himself rebounded from that nightmare first inning, and got through 102 pitches total, exiting with one out and a man on second in the top of the sixth, with Arizona having tied things up at 5-5.
In what would wind up to be a 48-minute first, the Wildcats pushed across two runs against struggling left-handed Cal starter Matt Ladrech, who couldn't find command over his secondary pitches and allowed 2 hits and 2 walks with one wild pitch, throwing just 8 strikes of his 19 pitches.
"He didn't look comfortable out there, and we had a 5-0 lead, so we made the decision," said pitching coach Thomas Eager. "The ball wasn't coming out great. The arm slot was a little high, and he looked like he was searching for something."
"He was not himself at all," Esquer said of Ladrech. "Their guy, after the five-run inning, kind of settled in a little bit and ran. We couldn't get him out until the sixth inning. The 5 runs early were big, and we needed everything that we had tonight."
After Ladrech loaded the bases with one out, he was yanked for sophomore righty Joey Matulovich, who promptly got a sacrifice fly out to center, and then a ground out to first, ending the threat, for the moment. The Wildcats would plate another run on a single, a double and an RBI groundout by pinch hitter Cesar Salazar in the bottom of the second, as Salazar took the place of the left-handed hitting Mitchell Morimoto with the right-handed throwing Matulovich on the mound. A sacrifice fly by Pac-12 leading hitter J.J. Matijevic brought the Wildcats within one, down 5-4.
Eden was part of another bizarre play the wound up scoring the tying run for the Wildcats in the bottom of the fourth. After a would-be double play ball stuck in the glove of second baseman Ripken Reyes, Eden tried to pump fake after getting a force out at second, but instead spiked the ball into the dirt, allowing Lewis Boyd -- aboard on a leadoff single -- to score.
Arizona backed Matulovich and the Bears into a corner in the bottom of the fifth, with men at the corners and two outs. Closer Erik Martinez, who had allowed 8 earned runs in his previous 7.1 innings of work, came on in relief of Matulovich, who threw 69 pitches, and got a pop out to end the frame, setting up even more heroics from Vaughn.
The Cal freshman, who was 5-for-8 over his last 2 games coming in to the series, had direct roles in four of the Bears' runs, including driving in one and scoring in the first, and then, in the sixth, driving a single up the middle to plate Reyes, giving Cal a 6-5 lead. He also reached on an error in the eighth and came around to score on Dodson's single.
"I told them after the game, I said, the last two weeks, we have beaten a quality playoff team, and this week, we did it against somebody on the road, something we hadn't done before," Esquer said. "Those are big steps for us. Those are steps that these guys have to make in order to grow."
Martinez again worked out of a jam in the sixth, getting Matijevic to pop out to left for the second out, and getting some help from catcher Tyrus Greene, who erased a one-out walk to catcher Cesar Salazar by throwing him out at second on a buried slider from Martinez.
In the bottom of the sixth, left fielder Jonah Davis -- who made two sparkling defensive plays on Friday on the dead run -- made a valiant attempt to make a sliding grab of a foul pop by Salazar. He sprinted towards a chainlink fence bounding the stands, and the ball hit his mitt as he hit the deck.
"The ball hit off my glove, and my back was to the umpire, so I was trying to scramble to pick it up real quick, see if they'd call him out, but as I was scrambling, my leg was caught under the fence," said Davis, who was hooked like a fish on a line, thanks to the force with which he slid into the fence. "I started waving at, I don't know, really anybody, to help me get out of there. I couldn't move, and all of the sudden, everybody starts sprinting over."
Davis had a look of terror on his face, which coaches and others who raced in to help seemed to think indicated a major injury.
"I think they thought I snapped my leg in half, because it was caught under there," said Davis. "It's never happened before. Weirdest thing that's ever happened to me."
Davis popped right back up, smiling, but upset that he couldn't make the grab. He more than made up for that, though, in the top of the seventh.
With Dodson at third after an infield single, a bunt and a groundout, Davis laid down a slug bunt -- half swing, half bunt, with his top hand halfway up on the bat -- to the left side to drive in the Bears' seventh run, hitting against the shift with the shortstop by second base. Dodson came home easily to score.
"I wasn't seeing the lefty very well," Davis said. "I knew they were going to bring in another one, and I saw him (Landon Faulkner) warming up, and I was about to come up with a runner on third. I was thinking 'Push [bunt]' right out of the box, pretty much. I saw the first baseman and the shortstop back. The first one was a ball, and the second one, I was trying to go for a push to the first base side again, too, but it was kind of up and out a little bit. I knew the shortstop was back, so I just did a dark-side push to the left side, and I knew if I got it past the pitcher, I'd be able to get the runner in, and be safe. I kind of just reacted. The third baseman was playing in, so if I went for a drag there, I would have been out. I put a little pop in it to the left side, because the ball was out, and I didn't want to push it straight back to the pitcher. I just went with the pitch there, knew the shortstop was back and hoped that it got past the pitcher and the third baseman."
Dodson drove in the Bears' eighth run in the top of the eighth, and then got himself hung up between second and third, when Ruff sent a bases loaded fly ball to center to score Karas. It's unclear what he was thinking, but Dodson did cause third baseman Nick Quintana to eat the relay throw from left, and go after him instead of going after Karas.
Martinez didn't allow a hit over his first 3.1 innings, but did allow 3 walks. His fourth led off the bottom of the ninth, to Cesar Salazar. Matijevic then took a 1-2 offering from Martinez and rocketed it into left center to put men on second and third with nobody out. Martinez was then pulled for Dodson.
"He came in early and went as far as he could," Esquer said of Martinez, who's now thrown a career-high 41.0 innings, including six outings of 3.0 innings or more. "He was [out of gas]. We were watching him closely, and after the first four-pitch walk, and he had to sit for quite a while -- they made five or six pitching changes in the course of an inning to sit him down for a long, long time, so we were looking. When the first guy got on, we said, 'Hey, we'll see what happens here with Matijevic, and then we'll go to Dodson.'"
A ground out by Alfonso Rivas brought home Matijevic, but then Dodson struck out Jared Oliva with a nifty little breaker at the knees and then snared a liner by Ryan Haug at his shoe top for the final out.
The Bears and Wildcats finish the 2017 regular season at 1:30 p.m., on Sunday in Tucson, on the Pac-12 Networks. All hands will be on deck, Esquer said, though no starter has been named.
"It was great to get a win on the road and beat a quality team like Arizona," Esquer said. "It was so great for our development, and proved to us that we could do it. It makes you feel how close you really were, with other games versus TCU and Stanford. They were right there to be won, and we just didn't do it, but getting a win here is really something to build on."
Esquer said he wouldn't have blamed anyone for predicting that this youthful team would only have won 15 games, period, but now, Cal has a chance to finish with 15 wins in the Pac-12, and with 25 wins on the season. The Bears are third in the conference in hitting, second in slugging, second in hits, fourth in doubles, second in home runs and fourth in on-base percentage, but ninth in runs scored. That comes down to situational and clutch hitting and, frankly, maturation.
"As unproven as they were, we really have hung in there, and we've built this whole season on being resilient, just getting off the mat, because we've been knocked down over and over and over again," Esquer said. "A game like today really shows you. It's unusual to have the ability to pick yourself up after getting knocked down after last night's game, which was a tough game -- we gave it away and were up to our old tricks in creating innings [for the opposition] and playing some really young baseball."