Campbell soup good for the Bears soul

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BERKELEY -- California sophomore shortstop Derek Campbell has played on the biggest stage imaginable for a college baseball player. He's helped lift the Bears to Omaha and, once they got there, he made his mark by going 2-for-4 in Cal's first College World Series win in decades. Now the starting shortstop in place of the drafted Marcus Semien, Campbell has struggled out of the gate in 2012, going 0-for-8 with three hits robbed by reigning Big West batting champion and crack Pacific third baseman Dustin Torchio.
Sunday, though, Campbell broke through in a big way, sending a hard grounder past Torchio at third with one out and two on in the bottom of the eighth to drive in center fielder Chad Bunting to give the Bears a 4-3 lead, keying a six-run inning, the 9-3 win.
"We just kept getting the next guy up," said Cal head coach David Esquer, who returned to his habit of pacing a well-worn path in front of the dugout during the fateful eighth, when the Bears (3-0) sent 10 men to the plate, rattling off four of its 11 hits on the day to pull away from the Tigers (0-3) and finish off the season-opening sweep.
Campbell went 2-for-3 with two runs and two RBI on the afternoon, after going 0-for to start the year with a crucial error in the opener.
"Our guys are well-prepared to grind it out," Esquer said. "Not everybody gets to come out of the chute and have a great start. Some people are going to start off slow, and mentally, they've just got to stay with it, and he's done a good job of just caring more about the wins than he does about how he's doing. He just wants to help the team win, so that's the only thing that I think was frustrating him."
With the game knotted at 3-3, Bunting took a pitch off his shoulder from Tigers reliever John Prato Matthews to lead off the eighth, and was sacrificed to second by third baseman Mitch Delfino. Senior right fielder Danny Oh took the first two offerings from Prato Matthews for called strikes, but then, the Cal bench began to chirp -- and chirp loudly -- backed by a vocal crowd of nearly 800 spectators at Evans Diamond. Rattled, Prato Matthews stepped off the rubber and proceeded to deal four straight balls, putting men at first and second for Campbell.
"I felt like we were unstoppable," Campbell said of the atmosphere at Evans Diamond and the vocalizations from his bench. "I feel like, when we get that momentum -- it sucks that it had to come so late; it would have been nice in the second or third inning, to make it easy on our pitchers and our closers -- when we get like that, I feel like we're pretty hard to beat."
Prato Matthews was then lifted in favor of righty Kyle Shaver, who went 1-1 to Campbell before spinning to pick Bunting off at second on a daylight play by shortstop Josh Simms. Shaver's toss sailed over Simms's head, but the 6-foot junior leaped up and was able to keep the ball from heading into center. Both runners were in motion on the next pitch, which Campbell fouled off to the right. With Bunting breaking to steal third, Torchio too broke for the bag, leaving a hole for Campbell, who skipped the next pitch into left for an RBI single, putting Cal up, 4-3.
"Coach [Tony] Arnerich calls a steal of third, which was a great call, and if he doesn't call that, that's a double-play ball," Esquer said. "That opened the hole, and the ball gets through and we get the big hit. Then, we just kind of tacked on."
"In all honesty, that ball would have been a double-play ball, if it hadn't been for Bunting being aggressive on the base paths," Campbell said. "He moved the third baseman over, who's been robbing me all weekend. I kind of got back at him for that, but I feel like our aggressive attack really led to that run, and I just put it in the hole."
Junior center fielder Darrell Matthews didn't waste much time doing just that, sending a 1-2 pitch from Shaver sinking on a line into right, past a diving Allen Riley and all the way to the wall for a two-run triple.
"I was running to first, right after I hit it, and I was hoping - praying to God - that he didn't catch it," smiled Matthews. "Luckily, it snuck under his glove and [Arnerich] waved me around to third. I was hoping to go home, though, man. I wanted the inside-the-parker. I wanted it."
After the second intentional walk of the day to Pac-10 Player of the Year Tony Renda, Shaver was lifted for Paul Moeller -- who threw a one-hit shutout inning on Friday. Moeller fanned true freshman Chris Paul on a change up away in the Aliso Viejo (Calif.) native's first collegiate at-bat, but then faced off against last year's conference doubles leader and two-time All-Pac-10 catcher Chadd Krist. The veteran backstop stayed with Moeller's 1-0 offering low and away and drove his third double of the season into the left center field gap and bounding off the wall, bringing home Matthews to make it 7-3, Cal.
"Darrell gets a big base hit, they play aggressively to try to save the game, and the game opens up a little bit, and then we just kept adding on to it, which is good," Esquer said.
Sophomore first baseman Andrew Knapp -- who keyed Saturday's win with a two-run homer -- drove in the final two runs on a line-drive single to center.
"This is the way things go," Esquer said. "The score looks like we kind of pulled away and had this game, but we know better. This was a game where we had to scratch and claw and fight, and we have to be prepared to do that, because that's kind of who we are."
The Tigers held the Bears close in the early goings, pulling ahead 2-1 after five innings thanks to an uneven start from sophomore lefty Michael Theofanopoulos, taking the hill in place of 2011 Freshman All-American Kyle Porter, who is still not quite ready after a January bout of shoulder tendonitis slowed his progress toward stretching his pitch count.
Theofanopoulos threw 17 pitches in the first inning, but tallied two strikeouts locating a low-90s fastball and a twirling 12-6 curve he didn't have during warm-ups. After the Bears pulled ahead 1-0 in the bottom of the first, Theofanopoulos got Riley swinging on the heater, but then ran into trouble. Veteran catcher Jason Taasaas banged a line-drive single into center, and took second on a wild pitch to designated hitter Peter Miller.
Miller then sent a grounder to Campbell, who looked to third, but, unlike Simms two days earlier, took the sure out and went to first. With a man on third, first baseman Erik Lockwood bounced a grounder to the hole at short, and Campbell made a sliding stop, but had nowhere to go, as Taasaas came home to tie the game. Theofanopoulos bounced a curve a foot in front of the plate to second baseman Chris Gomez, but regrouped to get a swinging strikeout on the curve to end the inning.
Miller led off the top of the fifth with a single, and took second on a groundout by Lockwood. Gomez chopped Theofanopoulos's payoff pitch to short, where Campbell -- playing in -- came up empty on the backhand, allowing another run to score. Theofanopoulos threw 78 pitches in 5.0 innings, allowing three hits and two runs -- one earned -- with one walk and four strikeouts in the no-decision.
"That's going to be his battle, and they didn't do a lot unless he helped them," Esquer said. "Balls, wild pitches, and now, they only have to make contact. When he's in the zone, he's tough to hit, but a lot of guys can say that. You've got to do that. That's going to be his maturity, is how much he stays out of his own way."
Campbell redeemed himself with a one-out looping single to left for his first hit of the season, and back-to-back walks to Matthews and Renda set the stage for junior Paul Toboni, getting his first start of the season at designated hitter. Toboni sent a medium-deep fly ball to right, but Campbell's speed made for an easy sacrifice fly, tying the game.
A first-pitch, line-drive single to right by Krist put the Bears ahead, and a 10-pitch, 1-2-3 inning in the top of the sixth by senior Joey Donofrio stemmed the Pacific tide.
The Tigers nudged ahead again in the top of the eighth against junior change up artist Logan Scott on a one-out RBI single from pinch hitter Tyler Sullivan, but the Cal closer bore down and got center fielder Daniel Johnston swinging on a change-of-pace low and away to end the threat.
-- Renda capped off a strong opening weekend with a 1-for-3, two-run, two-walk performance in the leadoff spot. The junior infielder now boasts a .545 batting average, a .636 slugging percentage and a .667 OBP.
"For us, it was just a decision to really get him as many at-bats as possible," Esquer said of hitting Renda at the top of the lineup. "He's a three-hitter in the true sense of the word. He's our best hitter, and probably deserves to hit third in the order, but the reality is that I don't think we're going to be as productive at one-two, so let's get him as many at-bats as possible. It's probably a little bit bigger hole with Devon [Rodriguez] being out, but, quite honestly, there's a chance that, if Devon were in the lineup, I'd just hit Chadd Krist two and get the middle of our order right at the top of the game."
-- Renda has also stolen four bases in five attempts. Last season, Renda led the team with nine steals.
"He's been at me pretty hard the last two years to let him run, and he's had some leg problems in the past, but he's healthy and ready to run," Esquer said.
-- The Bears got four quality innings out of their bullpen, and in the 9.0 innings of relief this weekend, Cal gave up five hits and just one run. True freshman Keaton Siomkin made his second appearance of the season in a 1-2-3 seventh, and has allowed just one hit and no runs in two innings of work, showing off a plus fastball and good command of his off-speed and breaking pitches. Sophomore righty Trevor Hildenberger threw the ninth and allowed no runs and no hits.
"Really solid by the guys coming back twice in the weekend," Esquer said of Siomkin, Donofrio and Scott. "Joe Donofrio came back for a second time and gave us a good inning, and Siomkin came out and gave us another good inning. Scott, they were just overly aggressive on his fastball. They got a hit off him, and that may happen. He's just got to be better, and he'll get into shape. We've got a lot of confidence in Logan, and it was Trevor's first time out there, so we're still looking to add more people that we can rely on, and that's going to be our quest.
"We've got to try to find out who we can rely on, who's going to go out there and be relaxed enough to throw strikes and not be overwhelmed by the moment and not have the spot be too big for them. We've just got to get them out there."
-- The Bears tallied 33 hits in three games, and on Sunday were led by multi-hit days from Campbell, Matthews and Krist, who went 3-for-5 with a run and a game-high three RBI.
Rodriguez -- who had figured to be a centerpiece of the Cal lineup, but has been slowed by a sprained posterior cruciate ligament in his knee, suffered the Friday before the season began -- has a step forward in his rehab, and walked without crutches on Sunday. The Big Cat -- who hit .279 in 2011 with 13 doubles, five home runs and 35 RBI -- is on track to return just in time for the first Pac-12 series of the year on March 16 against Oregon State at Evans Diamond.
On Deck
With no mid-week game this week, Cal gets a bit of a rest before hitting the road this weekend to face always-dangerous Long Beach State at Blair Field in southern California.
The Dirtbags took their season-opening series from Virginia Commonwealth this weekend, coming out on top on Sunday behind 6.2 strong innings from sophomore lefty Ryan Strufing. Long Beach State, though, is playing without one of their top relievers last season in Nate Underwood, who is no longer with the team. Underwood went 3-0 in 2011 with a 1.93 ERA in 18.2 innings over 19 appearances.
The Bears face the Dirtbags under the lights at 6:30 PM on Friday, followed by a 5:30 tilt on Saturday and a 1 PM start on Sunday.