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February 28, 2012

Bunting comes up big in Siomkin's first start



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BERKELEY -- The California baseball team is not pretty enough to be out-hit 14 to seven and still come away with a win. It won't fly when the Bears head to Texas for four games against the Longhorns. It won't fly when they head to Lincoln to face Nebraska. On Tuesday, though, Cal center fielder Chad Bunting helped put just enough make up on the Bears to help them edge visiting San Francisco, 5-3 at Evans Diamond.

"We're not, not yet," head coach David Esquer said. "The game's not easy for us, right now. It's a little bit of the hangover from the weekend, as far as offensively. Long Beach pitched us tough, and sometimes when you get a sequence like we did, and they throw you off balance, there is a little hangover. You've got to get your feet back on the ground."

With two outs and Pac-10 Player of the Year Tony Renda on first in the bottom of the first inning, sophomore Cal first baseman Andrew Knapp sent a 1-1 offering from senior lefty Justin Remer hopping to shortstop. Senior Aritz Garcia picked the grounder and went the short way to the second base bag, instead of throwing to first for the sure out. Renda, though, beat Garcia to the bag, putting men on first and second for Bunting, who crushed a 2-2 hanging curve down the left field line and into the corner for a two-run double, putting the Bears up, 2-0.

"I was just looking for a good pitch with two outs to get a hit with," Bunting said. "I got it. He left a pitch up with two strikes and I was able to put barrel on it."

The strong-armed Bunting then saved a run in the top of the second, gunning first baseman Tom Barry out at the plate on a single up the middle by Garcia to end the frame.

"The ball was hit pretty hard, and I was able to cut the distance down pretty well," Bunting said. "I knew that, once I had it, he was just hitting third. I just knew that I needed to put it on (catcher) Chadd [Krist]. I didn't have to throw it that hard, and sure enough, the throw was there."

The Bears (5-2) added another run in the bottom of the second, once again with two outs. Senior Danny Oh -- aboard with a leadoff walk -- was bunted to second by sophomore Derek Campbell, and junior left fielder Darrell Matthews then took a pitch to the middle of the back to put two men on for Renda. The 5-foot-7 second baseman, though, struck out swinging on a low change up from Remer. Junior designated hitter Vince Bruno then sent a 1-2 chopper just fair up the first base line, but as the ball was about to roll foul, Remer came sliding in to snag it, missing the tag on the speedy Bruno. Remer then wildly threw home, allowing Oh to score.

After a fifth-inning solo home run by center fielder Justin Maffei, Cal plated two more runs in the bottom of the fifth.

With two outs, Knapp sent a bounding RBI double just inside the line at third to make it 4-1 in favor of the Bears. Bunting then worked a six-pitch walk from reliever Ben Graff to set up a first-pitch double into left by junior third baseman Mitch Delfino.

True freshman starting pitcher Keaton Siomkin -- with his father in the stands -- turned in a solid outing in his first collegiate start, throwing 58 pitches over 4.0 innings and allowing one run on a home run by center fielder Justin Maffei in the top of the fifth.

Siomkin spotted his high-80s to low-90s fastball on both sides of the plate and utilized his change up to great effect, getting eight groundouts to just three fly outs. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound righty out of Ladera Ranch (Calif.) JSerra got ahead of 14 of the 20 hitters he faced and didn't get to a single three-ball count.

"A little bit towards the end, he had two pitches going really well -- the fastball and the change up were going really well for him -- but by the second and third time through the lineup, he was going to have to mix in that third pitch, and that one wasn't as good," Esquer said. "I think that probably caused them to figure him out a little bit. This time around, we had to go to the bullpen."

The Bears had five pitchers come out of the pen on Tuesday, in part necessitated by an injury to closer Logan Scott.

After four shutout innings from senior Joey Donofrio and true freshman junk-baller Chris Muse-Fisher, Scott came on for the top of the ninth and allowed a leadoff single to Jason Mahood. Third baseman Adam Clear then sent Scott's 2-2 offering off the junior righty's forearm, and though the deflection was long enough to start a 1-5-4 force out at second, the trainers immediately came out to assess the damage, and Scott was promptly lifted.

"He took the ball off the fleshy part of his elbow, so it's probably going to be bruised," Esquer said. "Not the time nor place to leave him in there. He would have stayed in, but it's not worth it."

With Scott on the shelf, Esquer went to redshirt sophomore lefty Matt Evanoff to face left-handed left fielder Ted LeMasters, who worked an eight-pitch walk. Evanoff was then lifted for sophomore righty Trevor Hildenberger, but Dons head coach Nino Giarratano countered by sending pinch hitter Nik Balog to the plate. Balog left the San Francisco opener with an elbow injury after going 2-for-2, and showed no ill effects in his first action since then, ringing a single up the middle to load the bases for Barry.

Hildenberger hit Barry with his first pitch to force in a run, and a sacrifice fly by right fielder Bradley Zimmer brought the Dons to within two runs, down 5-3.

Once again, Garcia came up with the chance to do some damage, but Hildenberger induced a tricky two-hopper to Campbell at short, which he then flipped to Renda to end the game.

"It's still a work-in-progress," Esquer said of his bullpen. "Our depth on the pitching mound is still a work-in-progress. We've been going to the guys who perform the best in practice, and there was an opportunity for some guys who hadn't had a chance to get in there. We're still in need of one or two guys, especially in the absence of [Kyle] Porter. That's still one guy down, so we're one guy thinner than we should be. Hopefully, we can find some answers and some guys who can help us down the line."

Porter -- a Freshman All-American in 2011 -- is still not quite ready to get into the starting rotation after a bout of shoulder tendonitis slowed his development in January. Pitching coach Mike Neu said that the Bears want to make sure Porter is ready to re-join the rotation for good before sending him to the hill in an extended role.


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