It lacked the late-inning suspense of recent matches, but the Cal baseball team’s 4-0 win over Santa Clara was its best victory in weeks.
Backed by a solid starting debut from freshman Chris Muse-Fisher, the Bears were in full control of the game. For a team that has labored with fielding and pitching problems throughout the season, Cal (20-15, 4-8 in the Pac-12) allowed no earned runs and no errors against the Broncos.
“We needed a win at home, on a Tuesday,” Cal coach David Esquer said. “It’s normally tough to get performances like this on a Tuesday.”
Cal played Santa Clara just last Wednesday, losing 8-5. Led by closer-turned-starter Logan Scott, the Bears dug themselves a big four-run deficit early in the game. Despite rallying back to tie the game at four, shaky bullpen and an atrocious defense killed the budding momentum.
The midweek matinee at Evans Diamond featured another reliever starting the contest. Muse-Fisher, whose 1.50 ERA is the best on the team, made an impressive starting debut by allowing only five hits, no walks and one strikeout in 5 1/3 innings.
With a fastball topping out in the 80s, Muse-Fisher relies on finesse more than power. To compensate for his lack of velocity, Muse-Fisher focuses on precision to get the batters out.
The freshman was in full control for the first five innings, pounding the strike zone from the start of each at-bat. To supplement his pinpoint fastball, he mixed in a good breaking ball that confounded most batters.
Muse-Fisher received help from the lineup from the start of the game. In the first inning, the Bears scored first as Broncos catcher Quinton Perry overthrew a routine toss to first base that sent Tony Renda from second base to home.
In the third inning, cleanup hitter Mitch Delfino hit a double to bring Renda home from second base again. In the fifth, Andrew Knapp blasted a solo home run to left center field for a 3-0 lead.
But in the top of the sixth, Muse-Fisher started the inning with three straight singles. After a short fly to right field that was too shallow for a sac fly, Cal coach David Esquer pulled the freshman out.
Reliever Michael Lowden cleaned up Muse-Fisher’s mess with a grounder and a strikeout to leave three runners stranded.
“I honestly blacked out during the sixth. It happened all of a sudden,” Muse-Fisher said. “It’s the first time I pitched so many pitches, so my arm got a little tired.”
Esquer brought out four pitchers from the bullpen for the last four innings. All four pitchers, including Scott in the eighth inning, combined to allow Santa Clara only one hit.
Broncos reliever Max Deering, who recorded a save last Wednesday against the Bears, was erratic in the bottom of the eighth, throwing two wild pitches that sent Chad Bunting from first to third base. Chris Paul laid a squeeze bunt that brought Bunting home for the fourth run that solidified Cal’s victory.
The Bears will return to Pac-12 action at home on Friday against Utah.