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February 18, 2012

Sophomore punches out season's first longball in win



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STOCKTON, Calif. -- The California baseball team banged out double-digit hits for the second day in a row against Pacific -- with none bigger than a two-run line-drive home run by sophomore Andrew Knapp in the top of the fourth -- to help lift the Bears over the Tigers, to the tune of 6-3.

"This summer was so valuable for him," head coach David Esquer said of Knapp, who went 1-for-3 with two walks. "He went out this summer in the Northwoods League and had as good a summer as anybody in America, and he came back really confident, and made some adjustments. He's a heck of a player."

Cal (2-0) clinched a series win behind eight innings of work from senior righty Matt Flemer, who scattered eight hits and allowed three runs, with three strikeouts and no walks. Flemer -- a 2011 All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention selection as a closer -- proved that he still has a starter's arm, throwing 100 pitches on the afternoon -- the most he's thrown since spending the summer of 2010 in the Northwoods League.

"I felt good," Flemer said. "I felt stronger as it went on. I didn't really feel like I lost anything."

Flemer hit as high as 89 mph on the Klein Family Field radar gun while pitching to his final hitter of the day, and was consistently between 86 and 88 throughout the day.

"It was a good, solid effort," Esquer said. "He threw strikes, found his change up later in the ballgame, which was big, because they're a free-swinging team, and if you stay hard with them all the time, they're going to hurt you, and they did. When they put up those runs, it was because he hadn't established his change up, and he didn't get anything to get him off of his hard stuff. But, he did, later in the ballgame, and he's going to need to do that, the whole year."

Flemer surrendered a run in the bottom of the third when a groundout by left fielder Brett Christopher cashed in a leadoff double from second baseman Curtis Gomez, but Knapp put the Bears ahead for good in the next half inning.

After junior designated hitter Vince Bruno led off with a worm-burner single back up the middle on a first-pitch offering from true freshman starter Mike Hager, he was kept close to the bag by three pick attempts. Senior catcher Chadd Krist skied Hager's 1-1 pitch high behind the mound, but with the infield fly rule not in effect, first baseman John Haberman stumbled on the mound and dropped the pop-up. With Bruno staying close to first, he was easily forced out at second as Krist took his place at first.

The switch-hitting Knapp didn't waste much time reclaiming momentum for the Bears, pulling Hager's 1-0 offering through the wind and over the right field fence for a two-run homer -- his first of the season.

"I was just trying to stay within myself," said Knapp. "I've been having a tendancy of pulling off, so I was trying to hit something hard up the middle. I heard 'balk,' but I didn't react like it was a free pitch. I just was looking for something to hit, and I reacted. I got the fastball, up, and I stayed through it well and pulled it."

After Knapp's low-liner, it was the Cal outfield's turn to get their licks in. Senior center fielder Chad Bunting rapped a Hager fastball into left for a single, and with two outs, senior right fielder Danny Oh -- who notched his first outfield assist of the season -- drove a 1-1 change-up the opposite way, into left field for a double to put men on second and third.

Junior center fielder Darrell Matthews then bounced a 1-1 pitch inside the first base line for a two-run double, putting the Bears up 4-1.

The Tigers (0-2) clawed back in the bottom of the fourth, with third baseman Dustin Torchio leading off with a soft liner into the left field corner for a double. After getting ahead of right fielder Allen Riley 0-2, Flemer missed with three straight pitches, before his full-count 78-mph change was banged back through the box for an RBI single.

After Haberman moved Riley to second on a hit-and-run groundout, veteran Pacific catcher Jason Taasaas lined Flemer's 0-1 offering the other way and into right center field for an RBI single, bringing Pacific to within one.

Pesky designated hitter Tyger Pederson then stepped to the plate, having gone 5-for-5 against the Bears the last time he faced them in Berkeley. Pederson lined Flemer's first pitch through the right side, but Oh came up throwing and nailed Riley at third.

Flemer got even more help from his friends to get out of the inning, as Krist cut down Pederson trying to steal second five pitches later. Krist threw out both would-be Tigers base-stealers on the day in Pederson and shortstop Josh Simms, and over the next four innings, Flemer settled into a groove.

After throwing 61 pitches over the first four innings, Flemer threw 49 over his next four, as his slider, curve and a 78-82 change came to life and his fastball inched lower and lower in the zone.

"I just felt like my mentality changed," Flemer said. "I just need to tell myself that I can still be a closer in my mind, and know I have the durability and stamina to be a starter, with my arm. Once I flipped that switch after the fourth inning, I knew I was just going to be grooving. I felt great. One thing that I really thought was better in the later innings was that everything was down. Everything was knees, thighs, and my change up was awesome. Once I had my change up going, you can build any pitch off of that. I got a lot of swing-throughs on lefties with that today. Then, I got Riley, their four guy, with a slider in, and that was good. I need to throw that good slider."

Cal added insurance runs in the top of the seventh on a RBI single from Bunting, and another in the top of the ninth.

In their last turn at the plate, the Bears saw Krist crush is second double of the season -- his only hit in five at-bats -- into the left-center field gap. Krist took a big turn around the second base bag, and was nearly picked off by a strong relay throw, but dove back under the tag. After a fly-out to center by Knapp, Krist tagged and went to third, riding home when Bunting's sinking liner to Haberman went through the wickets and into right.

Almost lost in the affair was yet another strong day at the plate from junior second baseman and reigning conference Player of the Year, Tony Renda. Renda went 3-for-5 on the day with a stolen base, and is now 5-for-8 in the first two games of the season. All but two Cal starters registered at least one hit, with Bruno going 2-for-4 with a run and Bunting going 2-for-5 with a run and an RBI.

"You know Tony's going to get on base, Vinny's doing a hell of a job in the two hole, and you know he's going to move him over, and then you have Chadd and Knapp 3-4, more often than not, you're going to get a run," Flemer said of his lineup. "It was good. Knowing that the offense can do that every game is pretty good."

Closer Logan Scott saw his first action of the season, needing just 14 pitches to get through the ninth, showing off a low-90s fastball and a 78-mph change to get hitters off balance. After the bullpen threw four innings on Friday, the Bears now have a stable of fresh arms to go on Sunday, should the need arise.

"That was big for us," Esquer said of saving the pen. "We're going to ride those starters. When they get in shape, we're going to ride them fairly hard, until we find out what we have in the bullpen, and to be able to get eight out of [Flemer], and then bring Logan in and get his feet wet and out there and finishing a game, was big for us."

On Deck
The Bears return home on Sunday for the series finale against the Tigers, with first pitch set for 1 PM at Evans Diamond.

Sophomore lefty Michael Theofanopoulos will take the hill for Cal in his first start.

"We'll go with Theofanopoulos tomorrow, because we need to get him out there and get some innings under his belt," Esquer said. "He'll do a good job, and we've got to support him with some runs. We left some runners on base today (11), but we need to score for him."


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