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March 7, 2012

Bears rap out 14 hits in 7-5 win



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BERKELEY -- Normally, the Creighton Blue Jays play in front of several thousand fans at the new home of the College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park in downtown Omaha, Neb., but on Tuesday, they came into the blustery confines of Evans Diamond in Berkeley and left as the victims of a narrow 7-5 victory at the hands of No. 25 California at Evans Diamond.

"You play ugly and win, and sometimes you want to be on teams that have the knack to win," said Bears head coach David Esquer. "You can play that ugly and lose all the time."

Cal (9-2) committed four errors during the course of the game, including a rare catcher's interference and a botched pickoff play, but still out-hit the Bluejays 14-8 in the midweek win, powered by a combined six hits from second baseman Tony Renda and catcher Chadd Krist. Krist went 3-for-5 with a run and two RBI, upping his season average to .378.

Center fielder Chad Bunting went just 1-for-4, but that one was a biggie, as the senior outfielder sent a 1-0 fastball from starter Nick Musec into orbit for a two-run blast in the bottom of the third for his first longball of the season.

"Creighton's a pretty good team," Renda said. "They can swing it. They're fast. They play hard. They don't make very many errors. They're a pretty good team. Luckily, today, we didn't have to play our best to win. We put up 14 hits, which is pretty good, and a win's a win."

After falling behind 1-0 in the first inning thanks to a leadoff triple by third baseman Chance Ross and an RBI groundout by first baseman Nick Judkins, the Bears came back with an RBI single off the bat of hot-hitting first baseman Andrew Knapp in the bottom of the frame.

Judkins then came up with a with the bases loaded in the top of the first, and sent a hard hopper up the first base line to Knapp, who was able to get his body in front of the ball, but saw it skitter away towards the Bears dugout, allowing Judkins to reach base safely. Knapp then fired wide to home, allowing two runs to score.

"I think we made six errors; I don't think we made four," Esquer said. "I think [Andrew] Knapp could have two errors, to let the guy get home. "Not often I've seen in 20 years you make six errors and win. We had chances to put them away, and we didn't, so it wasn't pretty by any stretch."

Cal came right back in the bottom of the second, thanks to three straight hits from third baseman Mitch Delfino, shortstop Derek Campbell and right fielder Danny Oh to bring the Bears to within a single run.

Cal starter Michael Theofanopoulos was once again his own worst enemy, throwing 102 pitches in 5.1 innings of work, allowing six hits and five runs -- three earned -- with three walks, five strikeouts, two hit batsmen and a wild pitch.

"He just gives too much sometimes," Esquer said. "Whatever they get, he has a hand in it. As soon as he steps out of the way of that, he's tough to hit. I don't think his batting average against is very high, but a walk and a wild pitch and an error, because the defense is on their heels a little bit, he's a work-in-progress. He'll get better. Coach [Mike] Neu will get him better, for sure."

In the bottom of the third, with two outs, Knapp -- who has reached base 12 times in his pas 19 plate appearances -- took a 1-2 pitch from starter Nick Musec in the right hip to put one man on with two outs for Bunting, who could have started his own space program with his circuit shot on the second pitch he saw, which he sent into the stratosphere for a two-run homer off the top of the RSF to give Cal a 4-3 lead.

"It was a fastball a little up, but I got my foot down early and he wasn't throwing outlandishly hard," Bunting said. "I was just keeping my hands inside, keep it fair."

Knapp went 1-for-3 on the day with a run, one RBI and a walk.

"His ability to take what he did this summer into the season this year, we were counting on it, but it has to happen," Esquer said of Knapp. "He looks in control, and he's confident at the plate. They got him one time with second-and-third with nobody out, but he came back and had some good at-bats after that."

Cal plated another run in the bottom of the fifth. After Renda sent his second of three base hits on the day scooting by a diving Jake Peter at second base for a groundball single, junior left fielder Darrell Matthews took a four-pitch walk, setting the table for senior backstop Krist. The two-time All-Pac-10 catcher sent reliever Chase Webb's full-count offering bounding over the second base bag and into center, scoring one run and taking second after center fielder Mike Gerber bobbled the ball on the exchange.

With two on and just one out, though, the Bears squandered a chance to blow the game open. Lefty reliever Mark Winkelman got Knapp swinging on a slider low and away, and Bunting -- trying to force the issue -- decided to lay down a bunt on his own.

"The first baseman had been playing way deep in the hole," Bunting said. "With the lefty up there, I was trying to push it in the seam, but it hit the hard dirt and bounced straight up in the air and didn't get rolling. I was just trying to get that run in. It's a hit if I get it by the pitcher, there."

Winkelman fielded the bunt and came home, catching Matthews in a run-down. Matthews retreated to third, which was already occupied by Krist, and Matthews was called out as Renda advanced to second. Junior designated hitter Vince Bruno then fanned on a 1-2 offering to end the threat.

In the top of the sixth, Gerber crushed a full-count fastball from Theofanopoulos over the left center field wall for a two-run homer, tying the game at five.

After Theofanopoulso walked left fielder Brad McKewon on four pitches, senior righty Joey Donofrio was brought in to face right fielder Brandon Murphy.

Donofrio caught Murphy swinging for his first of three strikeouts on the day, but just when he thought he'd retired Ross on a groundout to short, Krist was called for a rare catcher's interference, allowing Ross to reach first and McKewon to head to third.

With the pressure mounting, Donofrio got two quick swing-and-misses from second baseman Jake Peter, before a slider in the dirt kicked away from Kirst, allowing McKewon to come home to tie the game 5-5 before Donofrio fanned Peter swinging.

"He did a good job," Esquer said. "I'm proud of him. He's come a long way in his years here. He's pitching important innings for us this year, and he's done a good job."

Donofrio turned in 2.2 innings of scoreless ball, striking out three and allowing no hits and no walks.

"It wasn't pretty, by any stretch, but Joey Donofrio won the game with his outing," Esquer said. "He came in there and he stemmed the tide for us and gave us a chance to get our feet on the ground."

In the bottom of the seventh, Krist sent the second pitch he saw from side-arming righty Reese McGraw slicing back up the middle for a single with one out. Knapp then took a five-pitch walk, and both runners moved over on a half-swing chopper by Bunting up the first base line.

Up stepped Bruno - last season's team leader in on-base percentage. Bruno took the first four pitches, working a 3-1 count from McGraw, before sending a kangaroo-hopper up the middle, catching Peter off-guard, to drive home what would turn out to be the winning run, putting Cal up 6-5. Bruno finished the day 1-for-4 with an RBI.

"Honestly, I knew that he had a lot of sink, a lot of run, and I just wanted to see something up," Bruno said. "Once I got ahead in the count, he actually threw a change up -- a great pitch -- and I hit it in the right spot and used my legs to do the rest, I guess."

Oh sent a line-drive single to center with one out in the bottom of the eight, and was followed by a slicing, inside-out liner off the fists from Renda to right field, to put two men on for the meat of the order. All three of Renda's base-hits on the day went the other way, and his 3-for-5 afternoon at the dish upped his season batting average to .422

"I feel great at the plate," Renda said. "I was just really trying to stay within myself today. The wind was blowing in, if you try to elevate, you're not going to have a good day. I was just trying to stay low and hard through the middle, the opposite field, and they kept throwing fastballs away, which was perfect. I was hitting through the four-hole pretty well. I got jammed on the last one, but that's the advantage of being jacked. You can miss-hit balls and still get a hit."

After a strikeout from Matthews, Krist sent a ringing grounder back up the middle for a single, driving in the final run of the contest.

"Those are the guys who you expect that it has to come from," Esquer said of Krist. "That was the game, right there. It's a lot harrier in that ninth inning if we're not up two. I knew that one run was going to be a big run, because I knew they weren't going to go down quietly. They weren't going to go 1-2-3 in the ninth. That wasn't going to happen."

Junior righty Logan Scott came on and got a quick two outs in the top of the ninth, but then allowed two straight singles to Judkins and designated hitter Scott Thornburg before getting catcher Anthony Bemboom to fly out to right to end the game and earn his second save of the season.


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