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March 19, 2012
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BERKELEY -- The No. 21 California baseball team has not fallen in three straight games since dropping four straight last season to Arizona State and Stanford from April 21 to April 25.
That series against the Sun Devils -- which saw the Bears fall in a heartbreaking 17-inning affair -- was also the last time they were swept at home in a conference series. This weekend, No. 19 Oregon State turned the trick, finishing off a three-game sweep with a 13-5 win on Sunday in front of 609 fans at Evans Diamond.
"You see them as they try harder, yeah, both games yesterday, combined, are the 17-inning game. You come back, and, hey, the will and the effort is there," said head coach David Esquer. "They want to do it, it's just that we just weren't playing well enough to kind of overcome that, and we really aren't that type of team. We really rely on just performing, and playing good defense. That's what got us by last year, was pitching and defense. However you want to cut it, that's what it was. We were a much-improved pitching and defensive team. I still will say that we've got the personnel to play defense. We're just not doing it."
In his third start of the season, Cal lefty Kyle Porter struggled mightily against a relentless Beavers attack, throwing 54 pitches in two innings, allowing five hits, five runs (four earned) while dealing out two walks and one hit batter. In total, Oregon State (14-5, 3-0 in Pac-12) hammered out 17 hits to Cal's 11, with five Beavers notching multi-hit days.
Porter wasn't helped much by a still-shaky defense, which added three errors on the day to total 10 in the three-game set.
"We helped them along the way, quite a bit, and especially when you try to turn the tide and then you drop a pop up in the first inning to give them more of the same, yesterday they had two runs on no hits to start the game and today they started with one run on no hits. I'd like to play games like that," Esquer said. "I don't know that it was that we were flat or if it was that we're just in a bad defensive rhythm, and hey, quite honestly, I think in three innings, we left the bases loaded, and second-and-third twice. They got the hit with second-and-third and two outs, and bases loaded and two outs. They succeeded. We had the same opportunities they did, and we just didn't come through, and they did. Hats off to them. They played hungry."
The middle of the Bears order -- Chadd Krist, Andrew Knapp and Mitch Delfino -- went a combined 1-for-12, while Knapp struggled both in the field and at the plate, going 0-for-5 and leaving six men on base and misplaying several balls at first.
With two outs in the top of the first, Oregon State right fielder Dylan Davis sent a high pop up into the twisting winds above Evans Diamond. Knapp -- who looked to have an easy play on his hands -- saw the ball spiral away from him towards the middle of the field. Instead of calling Knapp off, second baseman Tony Renda failed to do so, allowing the ball to drop and sending shortstop Tyler Smith -- aboard with a one-out walk -- home for the Beavers' first run of the game.
Oregon State plated four more runs in the top of the second to chase Porter, but the Bears responded in the bottom of the frame with three of their own. Delfino led off with a walk, and moved to second on a passed ball to designated hitter Devon Rodriguez. Rodriguez laced a line-drive single over shortstop to put runners at the corners for center fielder Chad Bunting, who sent a hard grounder through the wickets of third baseman Ryan Dunn to plate Cal's first run of the day.
A cue-shot grounder through the 3-4 hole by shortstop Derek Campbell loaded the bases for right fielder Vince Bruno, who bounced an 0-1 curve to short to drive in Rodriguez.
Sophomore Mike Reuvekamp -- starting the game in left field against the right-handed pitching Jace Fry in place of the left-handed hitting Darrell Matthews, and made a circus catch at the left field wall in the top of the fourth to save two runs -- laid down a perfect squeeze bunt up the third base line to bring home Bunting. A walk to Krist loaded the bases for Knapp, but the talented switch-hitter got caught looking at a strike three fastball on the outside corner at the knees.
After a rare implosion by senior reliever Joey Donofrio in the top of the third allowed the Beavers to stretch their lead to 8-3, Knapp grounded out to third with two outs and two men on in the top of the fifth. In the bottom of the frame, with a runner on second, Smith sent a nubber to Renda, but Knapp was late broke late for first, causing Renda to double-clutch and allow Smith to reach base, putting runners at the corners for powerful Michael Conforto.
After reliever Logan Scott fanned Conforto on a swing-and-miss change, Davis picked him right up with a sharp single to left to make it 9-3 Oregon State.
After Bunting hammered his third home run of the season high off the outside wall of the RSF in left center field in the bottom of the fifth (he went 2-for-5 on the day), the Beavers posted a four-spot in the top of the sixth, again, thanks to Knapp's relative unfamiliarity with first base.
After two straight hard liners to lead off the frame, second baseman John Tommasini laid down a squeeze bunt up along the first base line. Charging towards home, Knapp had an easy play at the plate, but hesitated and tried to go to first, but it was already too late, as Tommasini reached and a run scored.
Center fielder Max Gordon then laid down a second straight safety squeeze, this time under the mitt of a charging Knapp to score yet another run and leave all runners safe. Conforto came up one batter later and sent a screaming line drive off the left center field wall to drive home the final two runs.
"You're in position to kind of thwart either one, and we just didn't," Esquer said. "Andrew's new at first base, and quite honestly, we've been lucky. First base is an easy position to go over and fill in at, but it's a hard position to be really good at, and over time, sometimes the game creates those situations. He broke on a ball that, with experience, he wouldn't. Renda, it was just a routine ground ball, and he was safe at first base."
Just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Bears on Sunday, and throughout the series. After Friday starter Justin Jones surrendered five runs on seven hits and two walks, Porter was knocked around, and then both Donofrio and Scott each had uncharacteristically hittable two-inning stints. Donofrio surrendered three runs on four hits, while Scott gave up five runs -- two earned -- on six hits and a walk. Esquer, for one, was surprised that his two best relievers both laid eggs on the same day.
"We're really trying to get them out there a little bit and give them more innings, just to keep them in rhythm, but that's something that, over the course of time, too, that we need them better, longer," Esquer said. "Donofrio has been unhittable and untouchable, but they touched him up today. Then, the hitter hasn't looked against Logan like he normally does, so we want to get him out there a little longer and give him more hitters."
The series was about as close to a disaster as Renda has experienced in his time at Cal. The reigning conference player of the year went a combined 3-for-13 over three games, while Krist went a combined 1-for-12. Knapp, who came into the series hitting .328, went 2-for-12, with eight men left on base.
"That makes it tough. Quite honestly, like any good team, your profile players have to perform, at some point, whether it's on the mound or on the field," Esquer said. "It was a bad weekend to have a tough weekend for the Rendas, the Knapps, the Krists and Jones and Porter. They all had tough weekends, and they're allowed, but we've got to be better at picking them up, too. We weren't good enough this weekend."