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April 29, 2012

Bears swept out of Eugene



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EUGENE, Ore. -- After winning six of seven games, including a sweep of Utah, the California baseball team failed to show up for Sunday's series finale against No. 9 Oregon, and after two close battles over the previous two days, the Bears were battered by the Ducks to the tune of 7-0.

"I'm not going to throw my hands up and give up," said Cal head coach David Esquer. "This is sometimes a rhythm of a team like ours, it really is. It's not ideal. You'd like it to be more often where your worst weekend is a 2-1 or a 1-2. We make things tough on ourselves. We've just got to have our best weekend. Their coach (George Horton) mentioned that this was the best weekend they've played all year. We've got to have our best weekend coming up here, pretty soon."

The Bears (23-18, 7-11 in Pac-12) recorded 24 hits over three days and 10 hits on Sunday, but could never manage to string any of them together with any great effect. Oregon, on the other hand, scored six of their seven runs on Sunday with two outs, and swept Cal after losing two of three to Washington State and their past three games coming into the weekend.

"I think they got all their hits with two outs and runners in scoring position," Esquer said. "We didn't get one with two outs and runners in scoring position. It was the same all weekend. They got big, clutch hits all weekend, and we didn't."

The Ducks (30-13, 14-7) got to Cal starter Justin Jones early, rattling him for two runs in the bottom of the first inning thanks to a two-run, two-out single by right fielder Kyle Garlick. Garlick was 3-for-3 on the day with three RBI -- all with two outs.

In the top of the second, senior catcher Chadd Krist tied former hitting coach Jon Zuber for the program's career record in doubles, scorching a liner down the third base line and off the glove of a diving Thomas Walker for his 61st career two-bagger. Krist went 2-for-4 on the day with both hits coming with two outs and no one on, in sharp contrast to the rest of the series, in which he went 1-for-9 with six men left on base.

"We need those hits when the runners are at second and third," Esquer said. "That'll happen. I think it was a struggle for a lot of our guys, and we're going to have to battle out of it."

Many of Cal's notable batsmen were missing in action on the weekend. Leadoff man Vince Bruno was 1-for-11 with one walk and four left on base. Senior center fielder Chad Bunting was 0-for-9 with three strikeouts, a walk and three left on base.

"You can't have that," Esquer said. "We're not offensively where one guy can take the game over. Last weekend, they played Washington State and the kid, [Taylor] Ard hit two home runs with six RBIs and won the game. We didn't have that."

Blow by Blow
Jones hummed through the second and the third innings, spotting his 85-89-mph fastball and a tumbling change up for strikes while getting the occasional swing-and-miss with his curveball, which ran the gamut from sharp and baffling to wild and unreliable.

"I think today I didn't feel like I had my command," Jones said. "When I was missing, it's not like I was missing the strike zone by a lot. I kind of did, early on, but I was just missing. I would throw it in and it would go away. I was missing in the zone, and that's where you get hurt."

After allowing a leadoff single in the bottom of the fourth to Garlick, Jones served up a grounder off the bat of Thomas Walker to Tony Renda at second. The ever-reliable Renda, though, over-ran the ball, putting two men on for catcher Brett Hambright. Hambright bunted the first pitch he saw up the third base line, and as the ball danced and flirted with foul territory, third baseman Derek Campbell came flying in to make the barehanded grab and throw to first.

With runners at second and third, Jones walked Andrew Mendenhall before working a beautiful pitch sequence to Shepherd, throwing three straight breaking balls before catching the Ducks center fielder looking at strike three on an 87-mph fastball at the knees.

"My inside fastball -- the front-door two-seam for me to righties -- is my best pitch, and I just need to find that," Jones said. "Once I find that, then everything else will come and I can build off of that."

Jones, though, lost command and uncorked a wild pitch to second baseman Aaron Payne, bringing a run home. Four pitches later, Payne sent a soft liner to left to drive in two to make it 5-0, before being cut down at second thanks to an alert throw from Krist to Renda at second.

"It was much like our hitters: he couldn't string anything together, either," Esquer said of Jones. "I think we hurt him with an error at second base, but, that being said, it's still tough, because it's unfortunate that he's struggling like that, struggling just enough."

Over his past three starts, Jones was 1-1 with a 2.38 ERA, 13 strikeouts and seven walks, and looked to be on the road to returning to his 2011 form that earned him a 2012 Preseason All-American nod.

"That's been the mystery," Esquer said. "He just hasn't owned his pitch sequences. It's just been tough."

His final line on Sunday was 5.0 innings, eight hits, six runs -- three earned -- with two walks and four strikeouts, as he dropped to 3-6 on the year.

"I was trying to get comfortable, I was trying to get a rhythm," Jones said. "After that first inning, I caught some rhythm, but it kind of went away in the fourth and fifth. I've just got to find my rhythm and keep it."

In both the the fifth and the eighth, the Bears had perhaps their best chances to exorcise the ghosts of opportunities missed over the previous two days, but both times, Cal came up short.

With one out in the top of the fifth, left fielder Danny Oh sent a hopper up the middle and off of starter Jeff Gold's glove for an infield single. Pinch hitter Brendan Farney -- in for fellow true freshman Chris Paul, who was 1-for-7 on the series -- sent a line-drive single through the right side. A perfectly-placed slow-roller bunt up the third base line earned Campbell an infield hit, loading the bases with one out.

"[Farney] has been swinging the bat well, and I thought that Chris looked a little overmatched this weekend, so I wanted to maybe give him a mental rest, because they were dominating him with their pitch sequences," Esquer said.

Bruno, though, sent a chopper up the first base line to the charging Ryon Healy, who cut Oh down at home. With the bases loaded and two outs, sophomore Andrew Knapp sent a lazy 1-2 fly ball out to shallow left to end the threat. Knapp went 2-for-11 on the weekend after going 6-for-16 (.375) with three home runs over the previous four games.

After a Garlick groundball single in the bottom of the fifth pushed the lead to 6-0, and an RBI double from Payne in the bottom of the sixth made it 7-0, the game was all but out of reach for the Bears, but then, Gold began to fade.

After throwing seven scoreless innings, scattering just six hits while striking out two and walking none, Gold gave up three straight singles to pinch hitter -- and Portland, Ore., native -- Jacob Wark, Knapp and Renda, before Gold was taken out, favoring his right leg after making a trio of tough defensive self-preservation plays during the course of the game. Reliever Joey Housey dealt a five-pitch walk to the dangerous Mitch Delfino -- who came into the game 21-for-41 with runners in scoring position -- to force in Cal's only run of the day.

Krist -- who had hit safely in his previous two at-bats -- swung at the first pitch he saw and sent a shallow pop fly to center for the second out.

"I thought he'd be a little smarter there to get a better pitch," Esquer said. "He almost looked a little panicked, there, to get the at-bat over with, and he did, but it wasn't in the right way."

Senior Paul Toboni then checked his swing on Housey's second offering to him, but still made contact to start a 1-2-3 double play to end the inning.

"What we needed was a collaborative inning," Esquer said. "We needed a two-out base hit with runners on base, and we just never got that. We had bases loaded and nobody out, and we didn't score. They walked us; that's the only way we scored."

The key phrase here is 'collaborative inning,' those frames where the Bears send five men ot the plate and keep the carousel spinning, which were one of the trademarks of last year's team. This series, the dinkers and dunkers and soft liners were nowhere to be found. Knapp, Bunting and Krist, in particular struggled in big spots.

"I just think that they're probably pressing to be the guy that's going to break the cycle," Esquer said. "They're feeling either a little snakebit or whatever that may be, and guys are trying too hard to make it easier on everybody else. That doesn't work, either. They need to find their own zone, where they play best."

Notebook
With no mid-week game coming up, Esquer emptied the bench and the bullpen on Sunday in order to shake some life into the lineup and to reward players -- like Farney -- who had been hitting very well in practice as of late.

Wark -- in front of a slew of family and friends -- went 1-for-2 with a run. Farney went 1-for-3. Two more pinch hitters -- Mike Reuvekamp and Toboni -- went a combined 0-for-3.

After Jones departed in the fifth, sophomore righty Michael Lowden entered for an inning of work, giving up two hits and a run while striking out one. True freshman lefty Chris Muse-Fisher threw a quick seventh, allowing just one walk. Senior righty Joey Donofrio threw a scoreless eighth, allowing one walk and notching one strikeout.

"We're going to have to respond," Esquer said. "We definitely are going to have to respond to some adversity. Hey, we've had plenty in our past, so it's not going to be anything new, but we just have to do it."

On Deck
Cal will take a week off before heading back up north to face the Cougars for a three-game set in Pullman, Wash. Washington State is 22-18 overall with an 8-9 conference record, having lost two of three at home to No. 23 Arizona State this past weekend.

"We just have to take it for what it is and move on and work hard this coming week to keep grinding and make that push," Jones said. "No relaxing. We've got to bear down and start working, work hard this week and go on into next weekend."


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