Cal and USC entered their Easter weekend series nearly identical on paper; USC’s 17-9 records barely edged the Bears’ 16-10 mark.
The two teams played this distinction out to a T on Dedeaux Field in Los Angeles this past weekend. The slimmest of margins — one run — separated the squads in all three games, two of which the Trojans took in walk-off fashion.
In the last two games, Cal (17-12, 2-7 in the Pac-12) could not parlay terrific starts into victories. Matt Flemer tossed 7 2/3 scoreless innings and six strikeouts on Friday, which Justin Jones followed with a seven-inning, two-run, four-strikeout effort on Saturday. But in both contests, the bullpen fell apart, surrendering the winning runs in the bottom of the ninth.
On Friday, Cal led 1-0 going into the ninth. Three outs from victory, closer Logan Scott — who came in to record the last out of the eighth — immediately ran into trouble. Trojans first basemen Matt Foat singled. A sacrifice bunt, hit batsman, fly ball and stolen base later, USC had runners on second and third with two outs. Second basemen James Roberts then singled through the left side of the Bears’ infield for a walk-off 2-1 win.
Saturday’s loss followed an almost identical blueprint.
After shortstop Chris Paul homered to tie the game 2-2 in the top of the ninth, Cal head coach David Esquer elected to stick with righty Joey Donofrio — who had pitched an easy eighth and worked an inning in Thursday’s win — for a second inning rather than put the ball in shaky Scott’s hands.
The plan immediately backfired, as Donofrio gave up a leadoff single and a sacrifice to move the runner to second. After two intentional walks and a groundout, USC (19-10, 5-6) loaded the bases. Donofrio threw three straight balls to Trojan pinch hitter Garrett Stubbs, then a strike, but missed low with a fastball to force in the winning run.
The two tough losses were revenge for Cal’s thrilling 5-4 Thursday night victory. With USC on top 4-3 and one out in the top of the ninth, left fielder Vince Bruno — who went 3-5 on the day while scoring two runs — singled and stole second.
Third baseman Mitch Delfino followed with a single, plating Bruno and tying the game. Second baseman Tony Renda then doubled, driving in Delfino with what would be the winning run.
Donofrio emphatically closed out the win, striking out the side to shut the Trojans down.
Cal will need the Thursday version of Donofrio Monday afternoon at Evans Diamond, when the Bears take on No. 6 Stanford. The Cardinal (19-7, 4-5) are coming off a series win against Pac-12 foe Washington.