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March 4, 2012

Paul breaks out in first two starts



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GAME ONE BOX SCORE
GAME TWO BOX SCORE

BERKELEY -- During No. 25 California's 9-3 win on Friday against Lehigh, junior starting third baseman Mitch Delfino took a pitch to the back and had to be taken out after just one inning. He was replaced by true freshman Chris Paul. After going 0-for-2 with two walks in his emergency action, Paul started both ends of Sunday's doubleheader against the Mountain Hawks, going a combined 4-for-8 with two RBI and one walk, while chipping in three putouts and five assists in the field as a part of the Bears' 10-0, 18-3 dual thrashings to finish out the series sweep.

"I'm just trying to stay loose and stay positive and play hard," Paul said. "That's all I could do. It's my first true start, so there's a little nerves there. I'm just trying to do what I can to help the team win, and we got our wins."

The 18-3 win in the second game marked the first time since March 8 of last season that Cal (8-2) won by 15 runs. The Bears outscored Lehigh 37-6 over the three-game set, and out-hit the Mountain Hawks 40-17.

"You can find out a little bit about your team and about their mindset," said head coach David Esquer of the lopsided double dip. "They don't take their foot off the gas a little bit, and they've got a little self awareness, because they've still got to play hard and they've still got to concentrate and you can't just give things up. Sometimes, some teams will relax mentally, and then try to turn it back on when they think it's time to play, and it's not there, anymore. It's important to just keep playing hard."

Cal got its leadoff hitter on in every inning in which they scored in the second game, scoring six runs in the first inning, four in the third, three in the fifth, one in the sixth and two in the seventh.

In the first game, the Bears struck early with three runs in the first on back-to-back doubles from Chad Bunting and Vince Bruno, three runs in second on a two-run double by sophomore Andrew Knapp and a line-drive single up the middle by Bunting, then added a run in the fifth on a high drive by Paul, which fell between two Lehigh outfielders in left center and bounced over the wall for a ground rule double.

"I'm really surprised," Paul smiled when asked about the drive, which had as much hang time as kickoff from Giorgio Tavecchio, who just so happened to be in the stands. "I didn't even think it was going to carry that far, but it did, and I just kept running until I saw everyone's hands up, and guys giving me a bad time - 'Hit the weight room sometime!' - but I'm still on second, so I'm just happy I got a knock out of it.

Cal finished off the scoring with three runs in the bottom of the sixth on an error on an infield single by junior Darrell Matthews, an RBI groundball single by Knapp and a wild pitch with big Jacob Wark at the plate.

Paul wasn't the only fresh face to see time in the twin bill. Wark -- who will soon head into spring football as a candidate for a starting tight end spot -- started the first game at designated hitter and went 1-for-3 with a walk, then entered late in the second game and went 1-for-3 with an RBI.

"It was a blast," said Wark, who will try to arrange some way to continue practicing with the baseball team during spring football, and even make some weekend series, given the Bears Tuesday-Thursday workout schedule. "We've been working really hard, and by them playing well, it gave all us other guys an opportunity out there to play. You've just got to take advantage of every opportunity you get ... I'm just feeling more comfortable each and every at-bat. Last year, it was really uncomfortable, coming off the broken foot, but now, it's just becoming second nature again to me, getting the rust off and feeling like I'm a regular ballplayer again."

Wark had a tough time keeping a straight face for much of the game, thanks to the staccato chirps of his name emanating from the cluster of football teammates -- Dominic Galas, Chris Adcock, Mitchell Schwartz and Austin Clark -- behind home plate.

"They are hilarious," Wark said. "Austin Clark, Chris, Dom Galas, Schwartz, they're coming out to support another team and support me, so it's a great thing. They're great teammates, but yeah, keeping a straight face is pretty tough to do."

True freshmen Brenden Farney, Keaton Siomkin and Chris Muse-Fisher all joined their recruiting classmate Paul, with Farney seeing his first two collegiate starts in place of the injured Derek Campbell, who was the big hero on Friday with a 3-for-4 day at the dish.

"He dove for a ball up the middle [on Friday] and I guess it just didn't feel good overnight," said head coach David Esquer.

Farney had his ups and downs on the day, committing three errors at shortstop. He did, however, get his first college hits, going 1-for-4 with a run and four assists in the morning tilt, and 1-for-4 with three RBI in the 18-3 afternoon affair, including an RBI double bounced just fair inside the first base line in the bottom of the third inning to drive home senior Danny Oh, and a sacrifice fly to left in the bottom of the fourth to bring home Bruno.

Both Paul and junior outfielder Darrell Matthews had four-hit days to lead Cal's cumulative 27-hit attack, which benefitted from a combined seven errors, 11 walks and six hit batters by Lehigh (2-5).

"[Assistant coach] Tony [Arnerich] was talking about it earlier -- these maybe weren't the best pitchers that we'll face the whole year, but when that happens, you have to really maintain your approach and just stay focused throughout your at-bat and concentrate throughout the game," Paul said.

Four of those HBPs were dealt to leadoff hitter and reigning conference player of the year Tony Renda, who despite going hitless in the morning affair still scored two runs. Renda went a combined 2-for-7 with four runs and two RBI.

"He was just a magnet," said senior catcher Chadd Krist. "It doesn't happen often, but when you start getting hit, you get hit quite frequently. He looked like he was pissed, but he just gets frustrated when the bat's taken out of his hand. He's the leadoff hitter, he's getting on base, so he's doing what needs to do for us."

Cal started the day strong behind right-handed senior Matt Flemer, who tossed 7.0 shutout innings, allowing three hits and a walk while striking out seven on 77 pitches, working briskly as the Bears downed the Mountain Hawks 10-0 in an hour and 59 minutes.

"They're all coming up on a short week, because we go from Saturday-Sunday to Friday-Saturday-Sunday, so we just wanted to make sure that they (the pitchers) didn't over-extend themselves," Esquer said.

Flemer's power curve was particularly effective, and he mixed fastball speeds between 85 and 88 to keep hitters off-balance throughout the first half of the twin bill.

After Flemer was lifted, senior Stephen Pistoresi and sophomore Michael Lowden threw two scoreless innings of relief, allowing no hits and one walk.

Knapp Time
Despite the absence of junior first baseman Devon Rodriguez -- on the shelf with a PCL sprain -- the middle of the Cal lineup was humming. The third- through sixth-place hitters went a combined 6-for-15 with six runs, seven RBI and two walks in the first game, highlighted by Knapp and Bunting.

Knapp went 2-for-4 with two runs, three RBI and a walk, while Bunting went 2-for-5 with a run and three RBI in support of Flemer.

Knapp -- who started and played all nine innings at first in game one -- saw some time behind the dish and in left field in game two.

"It was just one of those things where we wanted to make sure that we didn't want to give them anything to start, we wanted to press on it early and then, once we got ahead by 10 (in the second game), coach was like, 'Hey, we're going to get you behind the plate,'" Knapp said. "That was awesome. Then, we got other people time so I was just out there, trying to figure it out in the outfield. It's always good. I love catching."

Knapp finished the weekend going 5-for-10 with five runs, six RBI and four walks. On the season, Knapp is now hitting .333, with five of his 12 hits going for extra bases.

"I'm feeling really good," Knapp said. "I think the key is that even my outs are hit hard, and I'm doing what I want with the ball, so a guy at third, I'm able to get a sac fly, even if I don't get a hit. I'm feeling really good, and I think it's just staying consistent with my approach. In the past, I think I was a little immature, say, last year, where I tried to get more and tried to hit it further. I think I'm staying a lot more consistent, and I'm able to hit for an average and keep gunning for it."

Knapp helped key two big innings in the first game, drawing a two-out walk after a screaming line-drive single back up the middle by Krist in the bottom of the first, setting the stage for Bunting's two-run double. In the bottom of the second, Knapp sent a rocket into the left center field gap for a two-run double of his own, and rode home on Bunting's single.

Knapp spent three innings behind the plate in game two, and, along with sophomore Alex Egber -- who caught four innings over the two games -- gave Krist a bit of a rest.

"It was very nice," Krist said. "We were able to put ourselves in a position where we could get some guys some innings, guys who hadn't really been playing that much. It was good to see the hard work paying off in practice. Guys that work hard in practice got to play a little."

Knapp also saw two innings in left field at the end of the second tilt.

"He looked excellent behind the plate," Esquer said of Knapp. "I think we have two Major League catchers on our roster, I really do. That's a position he's very good at and we're very lucky to have a two-time returning All-Pac-10 catcher in front of him. Andrew's given us unbelievable play at first base for Devon, since he's been out, and we have him slated to play some outfield, too, when Devon is around, so it's good."

Krist, for his part, got off the schnide a bit in Sunday's action, going a combined 3-for-6 with three runs, two RBI and a walk. After entering the series hitting .267, Krist is now hitting a robust .350.

"I'm still a little uncomfortable at the plate, I guess, but I'm finding some holes right now, so it's good for my confidence," Krist said. "I still need to work hard, though, all the same. We'll be facing some better teams when Pac-12 starts, but it was nice to find some hits, though."

Krist finished his day with a two-run single in the bottom of the third of the second game, scorching a hard grounder down the left field line.

"It's been a long time coming," Esquer said. "I think he hadn't felt himself, necessarily, at the plate, but the ball he drove past the third baseman, that was kind of a vintage Chadd Krist hit. There was an RBI there and he just kind of stayed with the pitch and drove it right through the infield."

Emptying the Bench
Sophomore lefty Kyle Porter saw his first action of the season in the second game, starting and throwing one 15-pitch inning after seeing his offseason progression delayed because of a bout of tendonitis in his shoulder.

Porter mixed arm angles and worked effectively with his off-speed and breaking pitches, allowing just one walk and striking out one.

"He came out of it feeling good, and I thought his velocity looked pretty good," Esquer said. "I thought he looked solid. We're just going to keep kind of trying to build him up. We'll give him a little bit more each time out. He'll pitch a couple, probably three innings at Nebraska, and then we'll do a little more against Oregon State. We'll get him up, as long as he keeps doing well."

Siomkin came in and threw two scoreless innings, fanning three and allowing no hits and no walks as he continues to make his case for mid-week starting duties once Porter is back to full strength and able to resume his weekend starting role. Siomkin saw great success mixing in his curve with a darting, heavy fastball. It's hard not to see a lot of 2011 team MVP Kevin Miller in Siomkin. The two have similar arsenals, similar builds and both have plus fastball command.

Up next was the soft-tossing Muse-Fisher, who allowed two hits - both in the third inning. The freshman southpaw got some help from his defense, though, thanks to a highlight-reel play from Renda, who snagged a hard grounder to the right side off the bat of Casey Turner on the outfield grass, spun around and fired to first in the top of the third. Paul flashed some nifty glovework to get the third out of the frame, spearing a chopper to third and tagging out first baseman Alex Jacquez between second and third.

Junior closer Logan Scott threw a scoreless fifth, allowing one hit with one strikeout. Sophomore right Trevor Hildenberger showed good command of his fastball in his one inning of work, striking out one. Former quarterback Ryan Wertenberger threw for the second day straight, but didn't look nearly as sharp as his outing on Friday, giving up two hits and three runs while walking two and striking out one in the eighth, surrendering a three-run pinch-hit homer to Corey Kent after an infield single from third baseman Connor Faust and a walk to John Elson.

Lowden then came on to pitch a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out all three hitters he faced.

On Deck
Cal next takes the field on Tuesday at 2:30 PM against Creighton (5-3). The Bluejays are coming off a 2-1 series win at UC Davis, and are led at the plate by senior infielder Nick Judkins. Judkins hit just .227 as a junior, but so far in eight games, the 5-foot-11, 185-pounder out of Iowa Central CC is hitting .364 with one double, one home run and six RBI.

After that, the Bears hit the road again for a four-game set against the Cornhuskers (6-4) in Lincoln, Neb., from March 9-12, before coming home to open up the Pac-12 slate against the Beavers in a three-game set from March 16-18 at Evans Diamond.


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