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May 26, 2012

Cal outlasts No. 11 Stanford in 18-inning thriller



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PALO ALTO, Calif. -- When California shortstop Tony Renda was a boy, and he had a particularly poor game at the plate -- say, 0-for-4 -- he didn't get to ride home with nurturing, caring mom Larree. No, he had to ride home with his perfectionist father, Frank.

On Friday night -- nearly Saturday morning -- Renda stepped to the plate in the top of the 18th inning against No. 11 Stanford, having gone 0-for-7 for the first time in his life. Frank would not have been pleased. The junior infielder left five men on base. He'd flailed at bad pitches. He'd cost his team several chances to take the lead. But, with Mike Reuvekamp at third and two outs, Renda sent a full-count ski-ball grounder up the middle, kicking off the lip of the infield grass and into center for an RBI single, giving the Bears (27-25, 11-17 in Pac-12) the eventual winning margin in a 5-4 victory over the Cardinal in the longest game in program history.

"I definitely haven't [gone 0-for-7]," Renda said. "Worst performance ever. That one, though, yeah. Everybody says it all the time: You've got to stay into the game, because you never know. If you come up in the ninth inning with the chance to win the game, I happened to come up in the 18th inning with a chance to win the game - the second ninth inning - with a chance to win the game. Man, I was just trying to make contact up the middle of the diamond, and good things happened."

Renda sent two line-outs to short, struck out with two men on and one out in the third and grounded out with the bases loaded in the top of the seventh against ace Mark Appel.

"I don't think he goes 0-for-7 over two games hardly ever," said head coach David Esquer. "He was thinking the right way. He was saying, 'Hey, I'm going to get a base hit up the middle,' and he did it."

Appel went 7.0 innings, allowing six hits and one run with two walks and eight strikeouts, but was out-dueled by Cal starter Matt Flemer, who turned in a hard-nosed performance against the projected No. 1 overall pick in next month's MLB Draft.

"I knew I had to match him somehow," Flemer said. "I knew I wasn't getting the strikeouts that he was going to get, but I knew that, if I had all four of my pitches working, I was going to get a couple guys. The defense made some great plays. Tony turned a double play on a hit-and-run up the middle, which was big for me. I knew I had to find a way to keep us in the game, because that guy's probably going to be the No. 1 pick, and I had to find a way to keep us in the game. Fortunately enough, the defense played great behind me, and you can't say anything else."

Renda went 0-for-4 against Appel, with one strikeout.

"I probably should have hit him a lot better," Renda said. "He was working me in, which, you know, it happens. He's a good pitcher. He's got good stuff and that's probably why he's going to go one-one. I was getting ahead in counts and just missing pitches. 2-0 that I popped out, then I grounded out to short, 1-1 count I grounded out to second base. He's pitching a little bit backwards and the one I struck out, I got I think six sliders in that at-bat. He's got good stuff. I tip my cap to him. He did a good job today."

The win marks the Bears' second victory in as many games over a top-15 team, following a dramatic come-from-behind 6-5 win on Sunday against then-No. 11 UCLA. The victory over Stanford (37-15, 17-11) was Cal's first in its last eight tries dating back to 2010. The 18-inning affair tied a 1943 tilt against Santa Clara for the longest game in the 120-year history of program, and at a grueling five-hour, 58-minute run time, it out-stripped last season's 15-inning win over Rice (4:36) and a 17-inning loss to Arizona State (5:11) for the longest time of game in recent memory.

"I'm so proud of so many of our guys," Esquer said. "They really dug deep to even just stay in the game for this long, but you see guys like Danny Oh playing like he's playing now after a rough start and a rough last year, I mean, I'm just so proud of so many of these guys that are just coming back."

It truly was a complete team effort, as Flemer went 7.2 innings, giving up seven hits and two runs -- one earned -- while striking out one and walking one on 109 pitches, and was followed up by stellar relief.

"We haven't beaten these guys in a long time," Flemer smiled. "This is a long time coming. We've lost a couple, too, in the latter innings of the game, in extra innings against these guys. The bullpen, I mean, Lowden, Joey, Logan, everybody. It was a team victory. That's how you define it, right there. That's a team victory."

Senior righty Joey Donofrio tossed 2.1 one-hit shutout innings, and was followed by 1.2 innings from sophomore Michael Lowden -- including a two-run frame in a frantic 12th.

"Michael Lowden came from nowhere and gave us a couple big innings," Esquer said. "Logan Scott, he hasn't had the year he'd like, but he gave us some big innings. Hey, our guys wanted it. They deserved to win this game, and I'm proud of them."

The Bears talled two runs in the top of the 12th on a two-out Chadd Krist single up the middle to win a nine-pitch battle against reliever A.J. Vanegas to pull ahead 4-2, but the game just wasn't ready to be over.

UPDATE 5/26: Krist's hit has been retroactively ruled a double, as he was going all the way as he turned around first. That means that Krist now has 62 career two-baggers, breaking the program's career record set by Jon Zuber, the man who recruited Krist to come to Cal.

"This game had kind of a funky feel to it," said Flemer, who, after exiting, became the ringleader of some dugout shenanigans, which included taping several Gatorade bottles to a fungo to form a sniper rifle, much as the team did in the later innings of the final game of the Houston Regional. "It was one of those things where Lowden had been throwing so great, but you start extending guys three or four innings, it's like, man, they haven't had to do this before. You never know."

Lowden walked cleanup hitter Brian Ragira to put two men on with two outs for powerful Austin Wilson. Wilson pulled Lowden's fourth offering down the left field line for an RBI double to bring the Cardinal within one. After an intentional walk to Alex Blandino to load the bases, junior righty Logan Scott came on in relief. After getting ahead of pinch hitter Brett Michael Doran 0-2, Scott left a breaking ball up, which Michael Doran tomahawked down the left field line. Though the ball landed foul by a foot, umpire Billy Speck ruled the ball fair, sending the entire Stanford dugout erupting onto the field in celebration.

A tense argument between Esquer and third base ump Tim Vessey reversed the call. With the celebration quashed, Michael Doran had to return to the plate, and promptly sent a squibber to the right side. Miscommunication between Scott and sophomore first baseman Andrew Knapp allowed the ball to roll long enough to bring Ragira in to score, but Reuvekamp charged in and fired home to cut down a furious Wilson, who slammed his helmet into the dirt and was immediately ejected, along with his team-leading nine home runs.

"Thankfully, they got the call down the line right," Flemer said. "That saved us, and we found out a lot about our team. It was a tense game. At the end, he's the winning run. He's going to have a little fire in him, and obviously he took it too far and the umpire kind of had a quick trigger, but it's just one of those things where intensity kind of took over."

Scott went on to throw five more innings of shutout ball, allowing just two more hits while walking one and striking out three.

"It feels good," said Scott, who, as he got warmer, saw his change up tumble more and his fastball reach as high as 89 mph on the chilly evening. "You saw with all the guys coming in, it took kind of an inning or an inning and a third for peoples' fastballs to kind of get where they normally were. You've kind of got to battle through that first little bit, and that's kind of what that first inning was. Thank goodness that ball went foul and we throw the guy out at home. It allowed me to get loose and do what I did. If that stays fair, we're not playing anymore."

From then on, Cal -- which had committed four errors -- played lights-out defense, including veteran play at first from Knapp, a catcher by trade, and clutch play up the middle from Renda -- playing his third game at short -- and Reuvekamp.

Knapp in particular was nails at first, perhaps saving the game on a high throw from Reuvekamp in the bottom of the 11th with two on and one out.

After Renda's base hit in the top of the 18th, junior lefty Justin Jones -- slated to start on Saturday -- offered up his services out of the bullpen. Jones allowed a leadoff double to shortstop Kenny Diekroeger, and saw Diekroeger reach third on a sacrifice bunt from Jake Stewart. Renda pitched around second baseman Danny Diekroeger to put runners at the corners for the dangerous Stephen Piscotty, who had driven in seven runs in a 19-6 win at Evans Diamond on April 9. Jones, though, got Piscotty swinging at a curve in the dirt, finishing a dreadful night for the Cardinal third baseman, who went 0-for-8 after going 3-for-5 last time out against the Bears.

"If you can make him go 0-for-8, you'd better find a way to win that game, because that's not going to happen often enough," Esquer said. "That was a hell of a ballgame. It was just a battle of will, and our guys, I'm so proud of our bench and our guys. They were more into the game at the end there than they were maybe at the start of the game, and maybe kind of feeling their way through the first few innings. They wanted it, and they deserved it."

Jones then needed just three pitches to get Ragira to ground out to second and secure his second career save.

"He won't go tomorrow," Esquer said of Jones. "Sunday, possibly, but you know, it got to the point where our guys, we needed to give them the best chance to win, and they deserved the best chance to win that game. Justin, he offered to pitch and I felt like, hey, it was just one of those situations where, let's just get this win. Our guys want to keep advancing forward and play it game-by-game here."

The Bears rattled off 15 hits on the evening, led by a 4-for-6 day from left fielder Danny Oh, who has now gotten a hit in 15 of his last 22 at-bats and has now reached base 22 times in his last 29 plate appearances.

In all, Cal saw 12 different hitters step to the plate on Friday night, with the first six hitters in the lineup going a collective 13-for-42, including Knapp, who went 2-for-7 with an RBI double in the top of the second to give the Bears the early 1-0 lead.

Stanford responded with a run in the bottom of the fourth, when a rushed throw from starting second baseman Derek Campbell allowed Ragira to reach second to lead off the inning. After a fly out to center by Wilson moved Ragira to third, catcher Eric Smith -- one of four Stanford catchers on the day -- sent a sacrifice fly to right center to knot things up at 1-1.

The Cardinal pulled ahead in the bottom of the seventh when sophomore designated hitter Dominic Jose sent a grounder up the middle and through a drawn-in infield to score Blandino, who reached with a leadoff double and was sacrificed to third by Smith.

The very next inning, Cal pulled even. After third baseman Mitch Delfino and Krist led off the frame with singles, center fielder Darrell Matthews sent a 1-2 pitch from Vanegas - on in relief of ace Mark Appel -- to second, scoring Delfino.

Beating the pitcher that will likely be the first player taken in the draft does wonders for the Bears' confidence going into the second game of the series, slated to start at 1 PM on Saturday with sophomore lefty Michael Theofanopoulos on the hill.

"It says a lot, man," Renda said. "This team battles. This was a game where you had to battle. You had to stay in it the whole time, and I think you saw, out here today, a lot of last year's team, where we were never out of a game. We just kept on battling, finding a way to get another run or put up a zero. That's huge. We're going to go after it tomorrow. They're going to come out and try to beat us, because I don't think they think that we should win. They think they're much better than us, and they're not. We know that."

"We found a lot about, whatever, I can't even talk anymore," said an ebullient Flemer. "We found out what certain guys can do and what they may need to do in the future."

A noticeably relieved Scott -- who has had an up-and-down season -- displayed the confidence that caught fire in the dugout as the game reached its climax.

"We know we can play with them," he said. "We absolutely know we can play with them. They are not the better team on the field right now. We're as good as they are. We haven't won here in my four years. Now we did, and we know we can."


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