It probably wouldn’t have been fair to task Cal baseball with getting one win this weekend, let alone the two it would have taken to win the series against Oregon State, currently the No. 1 squad in the nation. The young Bears have done an admirable job of sticking around .500 this season, dominating at home and doing a good job of bouncing back from a few ugly losses.
But with a 5-15 record on the road heading into this series, along with the fact that last time they were swept the only other time they played a ranked team, the Bears were likely in for a bad time. Cal came close to stealing one, but Oregon State indeed ended up on the right side of a sweep.
The Bears simply don’t have anybody on the roster ready for the pressure of pitching Friday night road games. Sophomore Tanner Dodson washed out of the role halfway through the season, and while freshman Jared Horn has improved by the eye test since being bumped up to de facto ace, his promotion came along with a bunch of ugly results.
Game one of this series was no different, as Horn couldn’t make it out of the third inning, recording less outs than Oregon State hits. The Beavers sported a 6-0 lead by the time sophomore Aaron Shortridge came in relief, and though the bullpen did a good job to hold the home squad to just two runs the rest of the game, the damage was done.
Junior Preston Grand Pre, sophomore Jeffrey Mitchell Jr. and freshman Andrew Vaughn, the Bears’ 1-2-3 batters in game one, continued to thrive at the plate, and recorded six combined hits in the first contest. But the rest of the lineup mustered up just one hit, and Cal failed to score a run, ultimately losing 8-0.
In the second game Oregon State held a 2-0 lead going into the third inning, and the Beavers looked to be on their way to another dominant win. But Cal’s bats woke up in a big way when freshman Cameron Eden, Dodson and junior Denis Karas all homered in the next two frames, and Cal was tied 4-4 until the bottom of the sixth inning.
With an unlikely win close, Cal head coach David Esquer turned to junior Erik Martinez, who has been incredibly solid for the Bears this season. The decision didn’t quite work out and Martinez gave up a grand slam that put the Beavers ahead by four. But the Bears responded with a grand slam of their own, courtesy of Karas, and scored six runs in the seventh and eighth.
The Bears were down 11-10 heading into the top of the ninth, and Karas once again did his job with a leadoff single. But after two pop outs, Karas was thrown out at second after trying to advance on a ball in the dirt — game over.
Cal seemed to use what was left of their bats in game two, and game three saw the team fall back into its slump, losing 10-2. The Bears’ offense collected 10 hits but couldn’t string them together, blowing opportunities to score additional runs in the second and fifth innings.
Two of Cal’s remaining three series are at home (Stanford and TCU), so it has a good chance to improve its previously impressive Pac-12 record (12-12). But for a team this young, this year was ultimately going to be about growth and identifying what to fix going forward, not the 2017 record. If the Bears can get it together on the road, the future is bright.