At first glance, this is a matchup served on a platter for the Bears — the Pac-12’s second-highest-scoring offense against the pitching staff with the second-highest ERA. But Cal needs its arms more than ever to try to stop a red-hot Utah offense, as the two square off for a three-game set in Berkeley.
Utah’s (7-20, 4-3) record can be deceiving for Cal (16-10, 3-6), as it has played better ball of late.
Winners in five of their last seven, the Utes took a page out of the March Madness spirit last weekend and upset then-top-ranked Oregon State. In a series featuring no shortage of offensive fireworks, the Utes averaged eight runs a game against one of the better pitching staffs in the conference.
Junior DaShawn Keirsey Jr. paced the Utes with five hits over the weekend, blasting his first HR of the season in the series finale.
Keirsey is coming off a gruesome collision with the outfield wall last season in which he fractured and dislocated his left hip.
He has bounced back admirably this season, anchoring the top of Utah’s lineup with 11 doubles and a .373 batting average, good for first and seventh in the conference, respectively.
“They have some guys that were injured earlier in the year that are now back, so I think they’re going to be a tough team, and they’re going to play us tough,” said head coach Mike Neu.
On Tuesday, junior Erick Migueles hit his third home run in two games, a go-ahead three-run jack in the fourth, as the Utes also squeaked by BYU on Tuesday, 4-3.
Cal also took down a ranked conference opponent last weekend, taking two out of three from then-No. 15 UCLA.
Unlike the Utes, the Bears needed their arms to defeat the Bruins, holding UCLA bats to just seven earned runs over three games and winning their first series in conference play.
“I think we’ve relied on our offense a little bit at times, and that’s always a little scary because any team with a good pitcher can hold you down a little bit, especially UCLA with their talent,” Neu said. “So for us to minimize their offense and give ourselves a chance to win every game with our pitching and defense was a big step in the right direction for us.”
Cal’s rotation of senior Matt Ladrech, sophomore Jared Horn and junior Aaron Shortridge combined to allow just five earned runs through 17.1 IP. The Bears will roll with the group against the Utes.
This sounds almost like a broken record at this point — sophomore Andrew Vaughn had another stellar week at the plate, going 9 for 18 with nine RBIs. That performance was enough for his second Pac-12 Player of the Week honor this season.
“When you look at the stats and you look at the matchups, you hope that our offense can maybe take advantage a little bit, and we obviously have the ability to score some runs,” Neu said.
Utah will send junior southpaw Joshua Tedeschi, who has yet to win a game in seven appearances, to the mound Thursday.
Tedeschi will be followed by a pair of right-handers — senior Tanner Thomas on Friday and freshman Brett Brocoff on Saturday.
Thomas is coming off a quality start against the Beavers, holding their mighty offense to two runs over six innings in a losing effort.
Brocoff has had trouble finding the zone, walking 23 batters in 32.1 IP, compared to 30 strikeouts.
“They’re probably playing better now than their numbers indicate, and I just anticipate every game being tough,” Neu said.