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June 12, 2011Check out this photo feature of Cal's 7-0 win on Saturday: Pop Up Photo Feature.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- After California lefty Justin Jones exited Saturday's 7-0 win before the top of the seventh due to tightness in his left biceps, the sophomore hurler pitched one of the most important games of his career.
Under the bright lights and in front of a sell-out crowd of 1,431 at Stephen Schott Stadium -- not including those watching from beyond the fence and on top of the buildings in right -- Jones hurled 6.0 shutout innings, allowing one hit and one walk while striking out three. In a somewhat muted postgame press conference, Dallas Baptist skipper Dan Heefner betrayed a sense of foreboding when asked about Jones' injury.
"Obviously, first, I've got to give a lot of credit to Justin Jones, there. I thought he threw really well. He was throwing three pitches for strikes. I thought his change up was really good," Heefner began. "I hope there's nothing wrong with him that's going to prevent him from pitching again, because he really competed well today."
Of course, the only way Jones would pitch again is if the Bears (36-21) advance to Omaha, to play in their first College World Series since 1992, which they could do with a win on Sunday.
"I think the best thing that he did was just using his change up," Heefner said of Jones' success in disrupting Dallas Baptist's game plan. "We knew that he had a good breaking ball -- a hard breaking ball -- and he's left-handed and he's got good enough velocity that it'll will keep you honest. I think one of the toughest things on a hitter is when you've got a good change up that you throw with good arm speed, and I thought he did that tonight."
Patriots center fielder Landon Anderson went 1-for-3 on Saturday with one strikeout, and was equally as baffled as his teammates when it came to Jones.
"We sat in the middle with our timing and when you do that, miss pitches up in the zone, you just can't do that," he said. "Tomorrow, we've got to do a better job of making sure we stay on top of his fastball and not miss pitches when he misses up in the zone."
On Sunday, Cal will throw righty ace and second-round draft pick Erik Johnson (6-4, 2.91 ERA), who is in just about every way the opposite of Jones. Johnson has a plus fastball in the mid-90s and compliments that with a power curve and a slider that can be a swing-and-miss pitch.
"One thing we talked about afterwards was that the good thing about a Super Regional that's different from a Regional, is that if you lose the first game, it's not like we have to go in the loser's bracket and win an extra game or anything," Heefner said. "It's a three-game series and you've got to win two out of three. It's obviously a little tougher because we've got to win two in a row. There's no room for error now. We're just looking to come out tomorrow and play the way we've done all year and do a little bit better job than we did today."
Dallas Baptist will send right-handed ace Jared Stafford (8-4, 3.03 ERA) to the hill in an effort to stave off elimination.
"He's done an outstanding job for us this year, and we feel really confident coming in with an elimination-type situation for us with him on the mound," Heefner said. "He's a guy we love to have out there. He's real steady, he's consistent, he's unshakable, so no better guy to have out there than him, right now."
Stafford will try to hold down a Cal offense which has exploded in the postseason, hammering senior righty Brandon Williamson for 10 hits and seven runs -- all earned -- in his 7.2 innings on Saturday.
"We knew coming in that they were a good offensive team," Heefner said. "The report was that they had great pitching, but they're also a scrappy team offensively. They're going to just put pressure on you and I thought they did that."
During the regular season, the Bears hit 26 home runs in 51 games, but since the playoffs began, Cal has put four over the wall in six games, with three of those belonging to junior right fielder Chad Bunting and the other coming off the bat of junior shortstop Marcus Semien. The pair hit one three-run blast apiece in Saturday's win.
"We always take good swings," Semien said. "We want to focus on staying low and hard usually, because we play at a home field [where] the ball usually doesn't go. We keep that low and hard approach, and sometimes we get a ball up and it'll get out of there."
Unlike the rest of the postseason, the Bears had the benefit of an early lead on Saturday thanks to Bunting's three-run bomb in the top of the second.
"I think that was the first thing my wife told me, was 'It sure was nice to have a lead for once,' so she didn't have to get too nervous," head coach David Esquer laughed. "I said, 'For you? It was nice for me too!'"
The Bears rapped out 11 hits in total on Saturday (the fifth time in six postseason games that they have registered double-digits in the hit column), with none of those coming from sophomore Pac-10 Player of the Year Tony Renda or All-Pac-10 junior catcher Chadd Krist.
Renda was removed in the top of the eighth for pinch runner Dwight Tanaka in order to preserve his ailing quadriceps muscle which he injured during Monday's 9-8 comeback win over Baylor.
"At that point in the game, it wasn't worth it," Esquer said. "He's nursing that quad injury, so we're going to watch him pretty carefully. He's going to get his three or four at-bats when we need them, but at that point, we felt, 'Hey, let's get him out of there and let's get him rested.'"
Cal also lost Jones during his warmup tosses in the bottom of the seventh, as he felt his left biceps cramp up. His exit was, again, precautionary.
"He experienced some tightness in his biceps, kind of a cramping and discomfort, so we weren't going to take any chances with that," Esquer said. "We've had him checked already, initially, and there's nothing structural with the shoulder or elbow. It's just some muscle tightness in his biceps, so we're going to test that further and we'll go from there."
In his stead, sophomore righty Logan Scott came on to pitch three scoreless innings of relief to earn his first collegiate save. Scott was going to see some action if Jones couldn't go the distance - which he's done three times this season - but Esquer wasn't planning on throwing him for an extended period of time.
"I think the circumstance did change," Esquer said. "We may have gone with him only for an inning a little bit. We've got [junior closer] Matt Flemer at the back end of the pen and [senior righty] Kevin Miller as well, but when he got in there and was in there in the seventh inning and got a little bit into a groove and into the flow of the game. We didn't want to change that momentum that he was building. We wanted to let him run a little bit."
Scott went 3.0 innings, allowing two hits and no walks while striking out one on 41 pitches (26 strikes) in his fourth postseason appearance this season.
"I knew he was a great option for us if his change up was on," Esquer said. "He's really tough on left-handed hitters and he can throw that to right-handers, as well. I knew that he was a good match. My hope was that he wasn't going to be too amped up, and when he was able to settle in there and get the first couple hitters out, that was all I was worried about, just to make sure that he wasn't a different guy than he normally is for us, and he's been great down the stretch. He was great in the Regional, and at the end of the year. He's earned our confidence."
-- While Jones didn't have his lucky stuffed rattlesnake Roscoe on hand, he did have his sweat-stained ballcap for company - the same cover he's worn for the past two seasons.
"It's love," he smiled. "This hat has a lot of character and he's been through me through a lot. He's my buddy, so I don't plan on changing."
-- Of Williamson's 118 pitches, 87 were in the strike zone, something he's done all year. Staying around the dish was likely what led him to surrendering so many hits, including the two home runs.
"I thought Brandon threw really well, though. He did what he's done all year long for us: he competes. He had us in the game for the majority of the game, when he had us within four," Heefner said. "I even thought that the two home runs that he gave up were decent pitches on his part. It wasn't like he just made a mistake and they took advantage of it. The first one was a change up, I believe, and the guy got the bat head out on it. It was even in a decent location. The second one, I thought, was down in the zone, as well. Give credit to them, but I thought Brandon did a good job competing for us, and kept us in the game for quite a while there, and if we'd have done a better job, I think, we just put a lot of pressure on him, as well, not having any run support."
-- While Williamson was aggressive in pounding the zone, Cal came out with a little sauce in the early goings, which caused two runners to be picked off at first base.
"I think that [home run] let us settle in, in the ballgame, and let Justin pitch ahead and give us a good feel for what they were going to be offensively," Esquer said of his team's aggressiveness. "They're an aggressive club, too, and by no means, at any time during the game, did I feel secure with a three- and four-run lead with their offensive numbers. I thought the ball was carrying pretty good, and their offensive style is to hit the ball airborne and let it carry for them. I thought it was just a tribute to Justin, how in-control he was, to be able to hold them down, because they're a good offensive club and a good team, and we have, obviously, the utmost respect for them. We're not taking them lightly one bit."
-- The Bears are now 41-23 all-time in NCAA postseason games, and 1-0 in Super Regionals. Esquer is 6-7 in his time in Berkeley.
-- Jones has not surrendered an earned run in four postseason appearances, going 2-0 with a save. His win on Saturday was his first start of the postseason after going 6.1 innings in relief in the Houston Regional. He has now appeared in each of Cal's last three postseason games.
-- Bunting's three-run shot in the second inning was his third of the postseason after hitting two on June 5 against Baylor. He leads the team with seven round-trippers on the season. He leads the team with 10 postseason RBI.
-- Semien's triple in the sixth and his three-run homer in the eighth were his second and third extra-base hits of the postseason. He has now scored a run in five of the Bears' six postseason games.
-- The Saturday win was Cal's 11th shutout of the season and second of the postseason. It also marked just the second time this season that Dallas Baptist has been held scoreless, the last time coming on March 12 against Washington in a 1-0 game in Seattle.
-- Patriots second baseman Tyler Robbins was hit by a pitch in the bottom of the ninth by Scott, the 31st time this season he's taken a dose. That is tied for the most in the NCAA.
-- No. 3-hitter Jason Krizan got a hit off of Jones in the first inning on a rocket up the middle, adding to his NCAA-leading hit total. He now has 102 hits on the season and went 1-for-4 on Saturday.
-- A limited number of tickets for Sunday's game two of the NCAA Santa Clara Super Regional between Cal and Dallas Baptist will be available on game day at the Stephen Schott Baseball Stadium on the campus of Santa Clara University. Tickets will be available on a cash only first-come first-serve basis while they remain. Tickets will go on sale on a cash only basis when the gates to the stadium open Sunday at 5 p.m. PT. There will be a limit of four tickets per person.
First pitch for Sunday is slated for 7 p.m. PT.