For the first five innings on Thursday night in Los Angeles, the Cal baseball team looked like the team that had been struggling for weeks. The Bears had a defense blowing opportunities, an offense that couldn’t buy a hit and a starting pitcher that couldn’t buy a break against USC.
Good thing for the Bears, they saved their best for last in a 5-4 win.
Trailing 4-3 in the ninth inning, Mitch Delfino tied the game on a one-out RBI single and scored the winning run on Tony Renda’s double down the third-base line, as the Bears won their third straight in what could be their most pivotal win of the year.
But the classic come-from-behind win didn’t always look so bright for the Bears.
In a matchup of young left-handed starters, USC’s Stephen Tarpley began the game on a roll. The freshman, an eighth-round pick by the Cleveland Indians in last year’s MLB draft, pitched a professional-caliber five innings to start the game. Tarpley didn’t allow a hit through 4 2/3 innings, allowing just two baserunners in his first five innings of work.
Though Tarpley’s final line was an impressive one — three strikeouts and one earned run in 5 2/3 innings pitched — the freshman was more lucky than good. Several Cal hitters saw fly balls die on Dedeaux Field’s warning track, and several hard-hit balls found the gloves of USC’s outfielders.
Whereas Cal (17-10, 2-5 in the Pac-12) couldn’t create opportunities, the Trojans made the best of theirs. After a scoreless first inning, USC (17-10, 3-6) scored one run in each of the next four innings off Cal sophomore Michael Theofanopoulos. Though the southpaw allowed four runs in five innings of work, his defense was responsible for much of the damage behind him.
Jake Hernandez scored the game’s first run for USC on a Brandon Garcia RBI single, reaching after Renda’s second error of the inning. Matt Foat’s single in the third plated the game’s second run, one play after Andrew Knapp failed to cover first base on a bunt.
The Trojans added a run each in the fourth and the fifth, including one on sophomore Kevin Swick’s first career home run. But USC failed to score from there on out. As Tarpley tired, Cal’s luck turned, and the Bears clawed back into the game.
Cal added a pair of runs in the sixth, capitalizing on Tarpley’s sudden inability to find the strike zone. With the bases loaded and nobody out, Renda coaxed a walk, scoring sophomore Derek Campbell. With two outs, right fielder Chad Bunting drew Tarpley’s third walk of the inning, cutting the deficit to 4-2 and cutting Tarpley’s day short.
The Bears added a run in the seventh on Vince Bruno’s RBI single, cutting USC’s lead to 4-3, and setting the stage for Cal’s comeback in the ninth.
Senior Joey Donofrio struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth, taking down the top of USC’s order to earn his first save of the season.