It only took one play in the eighth inning to remind everyone at Evans Diamond that baseball will always be a game of inches, even if the first seven innings looked more like a home run derby.
After trailing by as many as five runs, Cal baseball sent out five home runs from five different players as part of a 8-7 comeback win over USF on a chilly Tuesday evening.
Most of the long balls came in pairs, with the Bears going back-to-back twice — the first instance came in the third and then again in the seventh.
All but one of the Bears’ runs came via the big fly — the decisive go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth.
With two outs and the runners moving on a full-count, a pitch from USF’s freshman Haydn King missed up and in and clipped the catcher’s glove. As it bounced to the backstop, sophomore Korey Lee scampered home from second.
“We were contemplating getting Korey Lee for a pinch runner, but we felt like, ‘Hey, we don’t have a lot of speed on the bench,’ and he stayed in the game and it worked out,” said Cal head coach Mike Neu.
Junior Joey Matulovich did a lot of the heavy lifting on the mound, pitching four innings in relief and allowing just two runs — both unearned — while striking out six.
“I thought Joey did a way better job, commanded more than just his fastball. He was able to throw some sliders and changeups for strikes, and that was definitely a step in the right direction, so I hope he can build on that,” Neu said.
Cal sophomore Rogelio Reyes, however, had a rough start.
The Dons’ junior Jonathan Allen wasted no time getting his team on the board, sending the first pitch of the game over the right center wall. Three batters later, Dons senior Ross Puskarich made it 2-0 with an RBI double. Puskarich would end the day 4 for 5 with 5 RBIs.
Reyes was pulled in the second inning in favor of senior Andrew Buckley after recording just five outs.
“(Reyes) can be so great. I’ve seen him pitch amazing this year. He has some innings like that when he struggles at times, and when he struggles, it seems like they’re big struggles,” Neu said.
Buckley fared no better in his 1.1 IP, giving up three earned runs in the third before giving way to Matulovich in the fourth.
An error in the fourth on a comebacker that sneaked under the glove of Matulovich led to two more runs, giving USF a 7-3 lead.
After a rocky start on the mound, the Bears’ pitching staff bore down, putting up zeroes on the board after the fourth.
“We know we can swing it with anyone, so we knew we’re going to put up runs,” said junior Tanner Dodson. “Our pitchers did a great job just holding them there and our bats came alive and we came back and won it.”
Cal’s offense got going in the third, courtesy of — surprise! — sophomore Andrew Vaughn, who hit the ball off the scoreboard in left-center for a two-run shot.
It was the 15th on the year for the sophomore — good for second-most in the country.
One batter later, junior Jonah Davis followed in his teammate’s footsteps with an oppo taco, cutting the Dons’ lead to two.
Lee joined in on the fun in the sixth. After hitting the ball hard on a couple of occasions, including a scorching a liner to second and a long drive down the right-field line that landed a couple of feet foul, Lee left no doubt about his abilities. He launched a two-run shot to right that cut the Bears’ deficit back to two.
Before the fans settled back into their seats after the seventh-inning stretch, juniors Tyrus Greene and Dodson had tied the game with homers of their own. In a span of three pitches, two balls left the yard, with Dodson’s line drive scraping the top of the wall.
“If you tell me before the game we were going to hit five home runs, … I’d say we probably blew them out, but it was a tight game,” Neu said.
Sophomore Arman Sabouri pitched a clean eighth and recorded an out in the ninth for the win.
Dodson followed by retiring the last two batters in order, picking up his seventh save of the year.