When your starter has a 8.38 ERA heading into a game, producing one run shouldn’t be enough. When you’ve given up more than 10 runs a game over your last four midweek games, missing out on two runs because of poor baserunning should probably mean a loss. But against all odds, in Tuesday’s matchup with USF, Cal baseball used six pitchers to earn the team’s first shutout of the season. Sometimes one is enough.
Freshman Arman Sabouri had never found his footing as a reliever this season, so after going two weeks without making an appearance, Cal head coach David Esquer decided to start him and see if that change could get things going. His two innings of no-run ball got the Bears started just right.
“(Cal assistant coach Thomas Eager) felt like he had made some adjustments and (Sabouri) did a nice job,” Esquer said. “He’s got the talent. You don’t want to get too judgmental on these freshmen, some of them aren’t ready to fall out of the sky and be good yet.”
The bottom of the first gave way to Cal’s first squandered run of the game. A flare from freshman Andrew Vaughn into right field should have driven in junior Preston Grand Pre from second, but Grand Pre missed home plate trying to avoid a collision with USF catcher Dominic Miroglio, who had mishandled a throw. Grand Pre awkwardly tried to dance back to touch the plate after overshooting it, but Miroglio had enough time to pick up the ball and tag him out to end the inning.
No Bear reached base until freshman Korey Lee got the sixth inning started with a single. A Grand Pre base hit put runners on the corner with one out for sophomore Jeffrey Mitchell Jr. The sophomore didn’t make contact on an attempted suicide squeeze and Lee was stuck in a rundown, but because Grand Pre advanced to third before the Dons could tag Lee, the defense changed its strategy and put Grand Pre in a rundown. A flummoxed Lee stayed parked at third instead of breaking for third during Grand Pre’s rundown. Grand Pre was tagged out, Mitchell Jr. struck out, and the game remained 0-0.
With the pressure still on, the Bears’ bullpen thrived to keep the game scoreless, and Cal finally broke through in the bottom of the seventh.
Sophomore Tanner Dodson put himself on second after laying down a bunt and advancing after the Dons’ sophomore pitcher Joey Steele overthrew his first baseman. Dodson didn’t beat the throw, but San Francisco’s second baseman was called for obstruction. Junior Matt Ruff ripped a ball up the middle and Dodson came around with plenty of time to score the game’s sole run.
“The first time we saw (Steele) he threw a lot of curveballs to us, we all knew that,” Ruff said. “So I was sitting curveball, saw the first one for a strike … I knew it was going to be a curveball at 1-1, and I put a nice swing on it, I guess.”
Dodson pitched a clean eighth and junior closer Erik Martinez finished off the 1-0 win in the ninth. Freshman Cameron Eden played excellent defense at shortstop, and was undoubtedly a reassuring presence for every pitcher that hit the mound.
Cal had been struggling in these midweek games, so a shutout at home should be a good restart for the final stretch of the season. A road series against No. 1 Oregon State awaits this weekend, and we’ll see how much the Bears have learned.
“What we have gotten better at is not letting one inning kill us or a mistake be the difference,” Esquer said. “Mitchell doesn’t get down the bunt for instance, we get thrown out at home plate in the first inning. You could point to any of those things and that could’ve been the difference.”