The Cal baseball team didn’t need a win on Sunday to claim its first Pac-12 series victory of the season. Hosting Washington at Evans Diamond, the Bears took the first two games with a timely two-run single by designated hitter Vince Bruno on Friday and a complete-game gem from pitcher Matt Flemer on Saturday.
In Sunday’s matinee, Cal (19-15, 4-8 in the Pac-12) came awfully close to completing the sweep of the Huskies, but Washington (18-15, 5-7) scored two runs in the top of the ninth inning to get the 5-3 victory.
Starting pitcher Justin Jones struggled most of the season coming back from injury and entered the game with a 4.97 ERA and a 2-4 record. After a strong performance last weekend that resulted in a no decision, Jones seems to have regained his rhythm.
Unfortunately for the preseason All-American, that rhythm isn’t translating into wins. The lefty went a solid 8 2/3 innings on Sunday, but an unearned run in the ninth cost him the game.
“We had an opportunity to give (Jones) more margin for error and some runs in there, but we didn’t do that when we needed to,” Esquer said. “It’s too bad because he really deserved to win.”
Jones was closing in on 100 pitches heading into the ninth, but coach David Esquer stuck with him with the game tied at three. The frame got off to a rough start with an error by third baseman Derek Campbell and a walk to put runners on first and second with no outs.
A bunt moved the runners up 90 feet, but Jones got pinch hitter Caleb Brown swinging on a pitch in the dirt for the inning’s second out and his fourth strikeout.
But Jones wasn’t out of the woods yet. Leadoff hitter Jayce Ray found a hole in the left side of the infield, singling to score the winning run. Reliever Logan Scott gave up a run on a ground ball, and Huskies’ flamethrower Joshua Frendendall retired the Cal side in order to record his first win of the season.
Jones finished the game with a respectable stat line, giving up three earned runs on nine hits and one walk.
“I’ve been struggling and struggling and trying to just come out with a win,” Jones said. “But I felt a lot better, still trying to progress and hopefully go out next week and do the same thing, give up a little less runs and put our team in a better chance to win.”
The Bears totaled eight hits but struggled to score. In four different innings, Cal had runners in scoring position with less than two outs but couldn’t get them home.
Despite the loss, it was a resoundingly positive weekend for the Bears, who snapped a four-game skid. After two late-game losses to USC last weekend, Cal broke through late in Friday’s game to secure a win. With the bullpen reeling, all three weekend starters turned in strong, momentum-building performances.
Bruno led the offense, going a combined 6-for-13 on the weekend with 4 RBIs in the leadoff spot. Three-hitter Tony Renda raked six hits and 4 RBIs in the series.
“You can’t really be too down on yourselves for playing hard,” Bruno said of Sunday’s loss. “It hurts because we had it right there, but knowing that we took a step forward this weekend.”