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April 15, 2012

Bears drop finale to Huskies despite strong outing from Jones



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BERKELEY -- The beard was scraggly. The hugs were plentiful. The hair was flowing. The Question Mark was back. Unfortunately for quixotic California lefty Justin Jones, his second straight stellar outing came up just short, as the Bears fell to Washington in the series finale at Evans Diamond, 5-3.

"I felt great," said a melancholy Jones. "The fastball was alright, early on, and then I kind of lost command of it. Overall, I felt good, but any time you feel good, it's overshadowed by losing. Collectively, I felt like I let us down."

Jones threw 108 pitches over a gutsy 8.2 innings of work, at first spotting his fastball and sinking fastball on both sides of the plate with pinpoint precision, before turning to his trademark curve, which he was able to throw for strikes and as a swing-and-miss pitch.

"It's challenging right now," Jones said of his curve. "It's always been a feel pitch for me, and I just can't keep relying on other pitches. My curveball has always been my most effective and most efficient pitch my whole life. I'm just going to go back to the drawing board and start working on it again, this week."

When the deuce began to fade, he went to his change up and regained command of his fastball in the later innings. It was another step forward for Jones, who struggled through the beginning of the season, sporting a 5.45 ERA in his first seven starts. Over his last two outings, Jones has allowed just five earned runs in 15.2 innings of work (2.87 ERA).

"I felt better," Jones said. "I'm going to continue to work this week, get better and start progressing forward, start helping us to win games."

On Sunday, Jones allowed five runs -- three earned -- on nine hits, walking one and striking out four.

"He kept them at bay," said head coach David Esquer. "He did a great job of kind of keeping them at bay and just getting them out. I felt, through the fifth inning, his stuff wasn't as good, but he still was getting them out. Nothing wrong with giving up three earned runs through eight. That's a pretty good effort on a Sunday."

The Bears (19-15, 4-8 in Pac-12) had sophomore Huskies hurler Jeff Brigham on the ropes early in his first start of the season, with two straight singles to lead off the game from Vince Bruno and Andrew Knapp.

Head coach David Esquer then called for his best hitter -- Tony Renda, batting .363 entering the game -- to lay down a bunt to move the runners into scoring position for the heart of the order, but Chadd Krist and Mitch Delfino each popped out in foul territory to end the threat.

"Unfortunately, the offense was just, I don't know whether they just tightened up in the big spots or tried too hard, but there were a lot of opportunities for us, some free RBIs out there, and we didn't get any of them," Esquer said. "That was big. It was just one of those things, the rhythm of the game on a Sunday, in that situation, is, you get behind, and sometimes you feel like the mountain's too big to climb, and, 'Aw, they came to play today. Darn it.' We let that one go, and you give them a breath of life."

Washington (18-15, 5-7) plated two runs in the top of the fourth with two outs, thanks to a double from first baseman Trevor Mitsui and a two-run home run off the bat of right fielder Michael Camporeale off the right field foul pole.

"I made one big mistake on that home run," Jones said. "I was supposed to keep the ball down, but I just left it right at the meat spot, and he just ate my mistake."

Cal came right back in the bottom of the frame to plate two runs of its own. Renda snapped a string of nine straight Bears retired with his sixth hit of the series, and moved to second when Delfino reached on a chopper that scooted under Jacob Lamb's glove at third. An RBI groundout from Krist cut the lead in half, and an RBI single by Chad Bunting knotted the game up at 2-2.

After the Huskies plated a run in the top of the fifth to pull ahead, the Bears responded in the bottom half with a line-drive single back through the box by Derek Campbell and a double up the right field line by Bruno to chase Brigham. With no outs and two men in scoring position, a wild pitch by reliever Tyler Kane to Knapp brought Bruno home, and advanced Campbell to third. Cal, though, failed to press the advantage, as Knapp struck out swinging. After an intentional walk to Renda, Delfino lined out to first to end the threat.

Jones was masterful over the next three innings, allowing just three hits while getting some sparkling help from the defense. Left fielder Joe Meggs led off the top of the eighth with a scorcher back up the middle, but Renda ranged to his right, gloved the ball behind the bag on the outfield grass, leaped into the air, spun off his right foot and fired to first for the out.

After a single by designated hitter Branden Berry, catcher B.K. Santy lined a 1-2 fastball through the right side for a single. Knapp bobbled the exchange in right, but fired to third to try and cut down Berry. True freshman shortstop Chris Paul alertly leaped into the air to cut off the throw, with Santy trying to take second. Paul threw to Delfino to start a rundown, and Delfino fired to Renda, who chased Santy back towards first and made the tag for the out.

"He's got some awareness out there," Esquer said of Paul. "He showed that on that play."

The Bears had yet another golden opportunity in the bottom of the eighth, after a one-out walk to Delfino and a wild pitch to Krist put pinch runner Danny Oh at second. Krist fanned on a breaking ball in the dirt, moving Oh to third with to outs for the powerful Bunting, the team RBI leader with 25 driven in. Bunting, though, flew out to right center field, and Cal's last real chance faded away.

Pinch hitter Will Sparks went down 0-2 quickly to start the top of the ninth, but lined a Jones curveball to Campbell at third. The sophomore was unable to snag the drive, but knocked it down and hurried his throw to first. The wide toss pulled Knapp -- who had moved from right to first to replace Delfino -- off the bag. Knapp made a valiant effort to dive back and tag the bag, but he was just a hair late. Jones then issued his first walk of the day to pinch hitter Erik Forgione, who moved to second on a grounder to third by Lamb.

"The line drive, it maybe a tough catch, but Derek will tell you that's a catchable ball," Esquer said. "There was plenty of time, and you just don't make an accurate throw. That's all part of fundamental defense: making an accurate throw. That led to the winning run." Powerful junior Caleb Brown then stepped to the dish in place of shortstop Ty Afenir, and after checking his swing on a 2-1 deuce, went around on a fastball at the letters to fill the count. Brown then swung and missed at a curve in the dirt, and was thrown out at first by Krist.

With two outs, the dangerous Jayce Ray stepped to the dish, hitting .353 and having gone 5-for-10 in the series. Ray didn't waste much time, grounding a first-pitch curve through the left side to put the Huskies ahead 4-3 and spelling the end for Jones.

Reliever Logan Scott came in to face Meggs, and quickly got ahead 0-2. Ray took second without a look from Scott, trying to hold the runner at third, and with the count 2-2, Meggs sent a grounder up the middle. Renda ranged behind the bag and snagged the shot, but double clutched and threw just late to first, allowing the run to score. Ray pulled up lame and crumpled to the ground between third and home, where he was eventually tagged out by Krist.

The Bears went down in order in the bottom of the ninth, preventing them from notching a sweep over the Huskies, who scored four of their five runs with two outs. Cal, on the other hand, went 1-for-6 with two outs and runners in scoring position, standing five of their six men left on base in those situations.

"We just put them in that position with mistakes, and in the last inning, we put them in position to be able to score some runs on two-out hits, and hey, I can't begrudge them that," Esquer said. "We had plenty of opportunities on two outs, ourselves. We didn't get a one-out RBI or a two out RBI, and we had them on there, all day long."


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