BERKELEY -- The last time the California baseball team notched a walk-off win was a month and a half ago. The last time the Bears won a conference series was 35 days ago. Not that any of that entered the mind of junior shortstop Mike Reuvekamp as he stepped to the dish with one out and two men on in the bottom of the ninth against Washington State reliever Kellen Camus.
"I knew his slider was his out pitch," said Reuvekamp. "I went up there just sitting on that, looking for something up that I could try and drive and stay out of the double play."
After true freshman third baseman Mitchell Kranson tied things up by golfing a first-pitch slider at the shins for an RBI single to right, Reuvekamp took a cue from his fellow infielder, sending the first pitch he saw from Cammus on a line, sinking into center just in front of a diving Austin Pernell to plate the winning run, as Cal came up with a 2-1 victory to take two of three from the visiting Cougars, touching off a big celebration among the 960 in attendance.
"Right off the bat, I thought it was going to be a knock," Reuvekamp said. "Then, the center fielder made a great play to make it close, so it scared me a little bit, but [Brian] Celsi did a great job of going back to tag, so even if he laid out and made the catch, he was going to score. It was just a good job all around."
Reuvekamp finished the day 2-for-4, and after getting at least two hits in his last four games, is now on an 8-for-13 tear.
"I've been working with coach [Tony] Arnerich and coach Esquer, just focusing on getting my swing as short as I can," said Reuvekamp. "I'm not a guy who's going to drive the ball out of the ballpark. I just want to be able to get on base, especially out of the nine spot, get on base for the big guys up top."
"A Sunday game, I think both teams kind of came out a little punch drunk, and that happens in the Pac-12," said head coach David Esquer. "You've got to be good enough to counteract that and not let that happen. It took us all the way to the eighth. It took the adrenaline of the ninth inning to jumpstart us, and eventually, when you want to be a great team, you have to create your own adrenaline."
Blow by Blow
In what turned out to be an unexpected pitcher's duel between Washington State's 6-foot-6 sophomore Scott Simon and sophomore righty Dylan Nelson, it was the Cougars (19-18, 6-9 in the Pac-12) who struck first in the top of the fifth.
After a heads-up play by Nelson on a bunt by Pernell to lead off the inning, Kranson snared a chopper up the line and erased Trace Tam Sing for the second out of the inning, but speedy catcher Collin Slaybaugh sent a hard grounder through the right side for Washington State's third two-out hit of the afternoon. Up next was the dangerous Jason Monda, who came into the game with six home runs and 32 RBis.
With the count 1-2, Nelson threw a slider down and in, which skipped away from catcher Andrew Knapp, putting Slaybaugh into scoring position. After bouncing another slider in the dirt to run the count full, Nelson served up a chopper through the right side and past a diving Brenden Farney to put the Cougars up, 1-0.
Right-handed reliever Keaton Siomkin then entered the game and got hot-hitting Adam Nelubowich to fly out to left to end the threat.
Nelson -- who tossed one inning of relief on Saturday night, allowing one hit and one run with one strikeout -- went 4.2 innings on Sunday, allowing one run on five hits and one walk while striking out five.
"We got a lot more than we expected," said Esquer, who had planned for Nelson to throw three innings. "We were watching his pitches, because pitching yesterday, we knew that about 60 pitches or so was about the most we were going to try to get him to go, maybe a hitter or two after that. We got more than we thought we would have.
"I thought he was spotting his fastball well, and quite frankly, I think the umpire was working well with him on both corners. Both sides, both pitchers, were benefitting. He was fair on both sides."
Siomkin went on to turn in his best outing in over a month, throwing 3.1 scoreless innings, allowing two hits and no walks while striking out one. Siomkin had not gone more than 2.0 innings in each of his last three appearances -- all starts -- allowing 10 earned runs on 14 hits in 4.0 innings of work.
"I went out there attacking, not trying to conserve energy," Siomkin said. "I think it's almost not being not amped-up enough [in starts]. When I go into the beginning of a game, I'm not as focused as I should be, and when I'm in relief, I'm just locked in the whole time. We had a lot of lefties in the lineup, so I stayed with my change up, mostly and threw a slider to a right-hander. We were controlling the zone with fastballs and change ups."
The Bears (18-21, 7-11) threatened in the bottom of the eighth, getting Farney on via an error by second baseman Ian Sagdal, followed by a hard-bouncing single up the middle by Knapp. But, slugging designated hitter Devon Rodriguez -- continuing to struggle through swing changes due to a bum shoulder - popped out to shallow left to end the inning.
After right-handed senior Logan Scott allowed a two-out single to Pernell and nothing else in the top of the ninth, Cal set the stage for its fifth walk-off in the bottom of the frame, thanks to a four-pitch leadoff walk by designated hitter Nick Halamandaris.
Not wanting to waste the first leadoff man his team had gotten aboard all afternoon and playing for one run, Esquer subbed in speedy Sean Peters to run at first, and lifted right fielder Jacob Wark for John Soteropulos.
The freshman out of Palos Verdes (Calif.) Loyola then laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move Peters into scoring position.
"Desperation -- you're not going to count on three or four hits there," Esquer said of his reasoning for playing for a tie at home. "We hadn't gotten that all day long, so I was figuring get the game to extra innings, and you may just outlast them. That was our first thought, and after we get the run there in the big spot, we were going to explore all of our options, whether it's squeeze or slash or do something to score that run, but I was going to give Rev one whack at it, and he came through."
Redshirt freshman left fielder Brian Celsi worked the count to 3-1, before sending a grounder to short. Tam Sing, instead of trying to nip the fleet freshman at first, threw to second, but Peters -- who froze on the grounder in front of him -- alertly retreated to the bag before the throw, putting two men on for Kranson, setting up the back-to-back singles to complete the two-run rally, earning Scott his third win of the season.
"That was a big moment for Kranson," Esquer said. "Soteropulos came in and got a bunt down for us, Peters's baserunning -- he's coming off the bench -- that's big for us."
Kranson has seemed to finally get comfortable at the plate, going 2-for-4 on Sunday and hitting even his outs with authority. Much of that, he said, can be traced to playing third, which he did for much of his senior year at Concord (Calif.) De La Salle.
"He played comfortable," Esquer said. "He played comfortable at third. I thought he moved around well at third base. He had his time early in the year where he was uncomfortable and the game was just too fast and was blowing right by him. He sat down for a while and got to watch from the side, maybe more than he wanted to, but now, when he's back in there, the game slowed down for him."
Kranson had played 10 games at first base earlier in the season, with just five hits in his first 27 collegiate at-bats, but now that he's back in his comfort zone, his bat has started to come around.
"Going through the beginning of the season and starting on such a high, I struggled," Kranson said. "Now, I'm so comfortable playing third. I felt like I was home again. Finally getting to where I was the most comfortable, it was just more relaxing and I could just let the game play."
After laying into a few pitches earlier in the day, though, Kranson's game-tying knock was just a gork to shallow right.
"It was a slider that started belt-high and ended up probably a ball," Kranson smiled. "It hit off the end, but coaches always preach incidental contact, and that's a perfect example there."
Will the Cat Come Back?
Esquer said after the game that Rodriguez -- who has struggled through the effects of a shoulder injury suffered near the end of the fall practice slate -- will likely undergo surgery to repair his right shoulder on May 15, and that after his disappointing redshirt junior campaign and a medical redshirt last season, there is a very good chance that the hero of the 2011 Houston Regional could return for a fifth year in 2014.
"We're not going to have him much longer; he's probably going to have surgery in the middle of May, and he won't say that [the injury has affected his swing] to me, but we've all seen him hit when he's at full-strength - or at least close to it - as he did before he played first," Esquer said. "He was as close to full-strength as he was going to be, and swinging the bat fine, until he had to come out at first base and made too many throws. He was swinging OK, and I think it has to be part of it.
"I think he's coming back. I don't think he wants to go out, and doesn't feel like he's shown professional baseball enough of what he wants to show them in order to leave. He's told me that his full intention is to come back. Added to our recruiting class this year is going to be [Derek] Campbell, Rodriguez, [Vince] Bruno and [Michael] Theofanopoulos, we're going to have a strong class anyway, but they're going to be among our best recruits for next year."
Longtime Cal fans will remember that Josh Satin -- now in Triple-A for the New York Mets and hitting .344 with four home runs and five doubles - struggled mightily with a stress fracture in his right wrist in his redshirt sophomore campaign in 2006, hitting just .222 and sitting out the final week of the season due to the injury. After a lackluster redshirt junior campaign in 2007, he decided to come back for a fifth year in 2008, and hit .379 with 11 doubles, 18 home runs and 52 RBI to lead the Bears into the playoffs, before being drafted in the sixth round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
"I think it's the same thing," Esquer said. "I think it's the feeling of, 'Why leave when you haven't shown people what you could do?' I'm a big believer in that those kids, when they leave, you've got to have momentum. You're not going to make your way in professional baseball unless you have the momentum of succeeding at the level behind you. To go out on a tough year, I just think it leads to some mind games in professional baseball that aren't very positive."
With Rodriguez potentially coming back for his fifth year, he will join the aforementioned walking wounded, as well as a stellar 2013 signing class, which includes Vacaville (Calif.) Will C. Wood ace and pro prospect Trevin Haseltine (0.60 ERA, 61 Ks in 33 innings), Atwater (Calif.) Buhach Colony righty and former Stanford commit Daulton Jefferies (7-1, 0.84 ERA, 88 Ks in 58 innings), top catching prospect John Riley out of San Jose (Calif.) Willow Glenn (.358, 7 2B, 3 HR, 11 RBI), Union City (Calif.) Logan two-way righty Alex Martinez (2 CG, 31 Ks in 27 innings, 2.85 ERA), hard-hitting Moraga (Calif.) Campolindo infielder Robbie Tenerowicz (who was in attendance on Sunday, along with fellow signee Lucas Erceg -- a righty-handed pitcher and shortstop out of Westmont), speedy outfielder and Cal legacy Aaron Knapp and San Diego Cathedral Catholic righty Alex Schick.
Reuvekamp Walks Off in Sunday Thriller
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