Off-day practice fuels Cal’s confidence heading to Arizona State

Matt Flemer earned the win on Saturday, giving up four hits and one earned run in nine innings.
Michael Gethers/File
Matt Flemer earned the win on Saturday, giving up four hits and one earned run in nine innings.

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The Cal baseball team officially snapped a four-game skid on Tuesday with a 4-3 win over San Francisco.
But the Bears really got back on track on Monday, traditionally the team’s day off.

After a weekend sweep that featured 10 Cal errors, the players were hard at work at Evans Diamond on Monday at the urging of junior Tony Renda.

Along with senior Chadd Krist, Renda orchestrated a team-only practice to redirect Cal’s teetering ship as it prepared to steer into Tempe, Ariz., for a three-game series against Arizona State starting on Friday at 6:30 p.m.

“The thing about getting swept or not playing your best baseball is just getting right back out there and getting back to what you know how to do, just play,” Renda said. “We just made plays, flashed the leather and had fun. There’s no pressure of Coach telling you to make the plays you’re supposed to make — you just make ‘em.”

At Monday’s captain-run practice, the outfielders hit grounders to the struggling infield while senior Matt Flemer led the pitchers through bunt-fielding drills, another glaring weakness the Beavers exposed.

After going through the drills, the Bears (12-7, 0-3 in the Pac-12) played a friendly but competitive intrasquad game pitting fielders against pitchers and forcing fielders to bat from the opposite side of the plate.

Renda, for instance, went 3-for-4 with a triple hitting left-handed. “No big,” he said.

When it came to facing real competition on Tuesday, the Bears executed their game plan, not surrending a single error for the first in 11 games to prevail in a one-run game.

The difference Monday’s practice made was palpable, Flemer said.

“Even in the dugout it was a lot more relaxed,” Flemer said of Tuesday’s win. “Over the weekend, we were afraid to make too many mistakes … (At San Francisco), we kind of went out and played. We had guys running down balls in the gaps, just not afraid to go out and make a play and help save a couple runs.”

While Cal proved it could play clean ball in a midweek nonconference game, the Bears face a much tougher task this weekend, taking on the Sun Devils (13-7, 1-2) in front of thousands fans at Packard Stadium.

Like Cal, Arizona State comes into the contest after a disappointing Pac-12 opening weekend. The Sun Devils dropped two of three at UCLA but bounced back with a 4-2 decision over UNLV on Wednesday.

Despite the early losses, Arizona State is dangerous. The Sun Devils stand atop nearly all Pac-12 offensive categories, led by sluggers Abe Ruiz and Joey DeMichele. Arizona State boasts also boasts a league-leading 2.71 ERA, creating a tough task for Cal, which has not won a game in Tempe since 2004.

Still, the Bears like their chances so long as they don’t take themselves out of the game.

“Just be competitive. We gotta stay with ‘em, gotta hang with ‘em,” Renda said. “I think we have the team, we have the talent, we have the attitudes of the guys that we can go in there and win some ballgames.”

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