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April 17, 2012
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BERKELEY -- To call California true freshman Chris Muse-Fisher slow and deliberate would be doing a disservice to tortoises everywhere. But, then again, slow and steady was just the ticket for the soft-tossing lefty, on Tuesday, as he rarely topped 83 mph against Santa Clara. It wasn't his fastball that did the trick against the Broncos, but rather his Cha Cha-ing breaking stuff that bucked the Broncos, as the Bears got a measure of revenge for last week's 8-5 loss with a brisk 4-0 win at Evans Diamond that took just two hours and 12 minutes.
"It was probably an inning or so more than I thought he would give us," head coach David Esquer said of Muse-Fisher, who moved to 2-1 on the year and lowered his ERA to a staff-best 1.50. "He's a keep-'em-off-balance type pitcher. As a matter of fact, you don't like him throwing too hard, because then, it becomes hittable."
Muse-Fisher scattered five hits over 5.1 shutout innings, and though he got just one strikeout, no Santa Clara hitter could square him up, as the defense held strong behind him.
"The softer, the better," Esquer said of Muse-Fisher. "We have problems hitting off guys like that, so we hoped that he would give them problems, and he did."
Cal (20-15) played errorless ball for just the sixth time this season, seeing some sparkling plays turned in by the infield and a highlight-reel diving snag by center fielder Chad Bunting.
The Bears rattled off 12 hits against Santa Clara (18-16) led by the heart of the order. The second- through fifth-spot hitters went a collective 9-for-16, led by a 3-for-4 day from senior catcher Chadd Krist, who went 2-for-11 against Washington last weekend.
Junior second baseman Tony Renda went 2-for-4 with two runs, and scorched two doubles on the day to up his season average to .369.
"We left some guys on base, and we've got some guys who are still trying to figure some things out, offensively," Esquer said. "But, we're getting some guys who are starting to come around. Chadd Krist was a bit better today, so that's a positive sign for us."
Renda came up with a two-out double in the bottom of the first after sophomore right fielder Andrew Knapp was cut down on the base paths, but the Bears were still able to capitalize thanks to an errant throw from catcher Quinton Perry. With the count 0-2 to first baseman Mitch Delfino, Broncos starter Paul Twining got a swing-and-miss on a slider in the dirt. Delfino alertly took off to first, and Twining sent his throw high and into right, allowing Renda to come around to score and Delfino to reach second.
Again with two outs in the bottom of the third, Renda smoked his second double of the day to left center and rode home on a single through the left side by Delfino to make it 2-0, Bears. Delfino went 1-for-11 against the Huskies.
"Delfino came back off a tough weekend," Esquer said. "Renda was Renda. Knapp and [Vince] Bruno continue to get better."
Knapp -- who had just one hit in his past eight at-bats with two strikeouts -- slammed a two-out solo homer in the bottom of the fifth to make it 3-0 against reliever Powell Fansler.
Though Bunting went 1-for-4 with a run, he left six men on base. After Knapp's homer, Krist and Delfino came up with a pair of two-out singles, but Bunting flew out to center to end the threat.
"We've got to get Bunting on track," Esquer said of his team's home run and RBI leader. "There's a few pieces we still need."
Cal may be well on its way to discovering another much-needed piece in the person of reliever Michael Lowden. Over his last four appearances, Lowden has allowed just three hits and two runs -- none earned -- in 5.1 innings of work out of the bullpen, and on Tuesday, he was able to work out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam, after Muse-Fisher allowed three straight singles to lead off the top of the sixth.
After Muse-Fisher got shortstop Justin Viele to fly out to shallow right on a full count, Lowden entered and used his slider to great effect, getting ahead of Matt Ozanne 1-2 before Ozanne sent a hard grounder to Derek Campbell at third, and Campbell alertly threw home to cut off the run for the second out. Left fielder Pat Stover worked the count full before swinging and missing at a slider in the dirt. Krist blocked the pitch and, instead of throwing to first, showed veteran poise by stepping on home for the final out of the inning to end the Broncos' best shot at scoring.
"He's a bit of an option," Esquer said of Lowden. "That slider, if it goes down, and it's sharp, he gives us an option. If he can own that, he can be a good option for us."
Against normally-reliable reliever Max Deering in the bottom of the eighth, the Bears tacked on another run. With one out, Bunting sent a worm-burner up the middle for a single, and two straight Deering sliders to left fielder Darrell Matthews went wide of the target for a passed ball and a wild pitch, allowing Bunting to move to third. Following a walk to Matthews, true freshman Chris Paul laid down a bunt up the first base line. An underhand flip by Deering to first baseman Drew Ozanne looked to be in time, but instead of tagging the bag, Ozanne went to tag Paul and missed, allowing the run to score. A double steal and a walk to Campbell loaded the bases for Bruno, but the junior designated hitter sent a bouncer to short, which was thrown home to cut down a run, and Knapp flew out to end the threat.
"We really wanted to get to five," Esquer said. "There's no sure thing, necessarily, in our bullpen. No disrespect to them, but we've got to give them as big a lead as we can."