Cal baseball skids to 1-3 start in season’s first series

Baseball player winds his arm back, about to throw the ball.
Zichen Zhao /File

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1976’s “The Bad News Bears” tells the story of a baseball team who enters its season with little hope and gets off to a terrible start but comes back strong to show some pride and self-respect. Well, that’s sort of how the Cal baseball team’s first series went at the Angels College Classic in Tempe, Arizona last weekend.

In the Bears’ first matchup against CSU Bakersfield, Cal reliever Arman Sabouri was the first to take the mound, and the southpaw tossed a brilliant two innings in which he fanned three batters and allowed zero runs. Although Sabouri has typically been used out of the bullpen in late innings, Cal head coach Mike Neu felt that using the lefthander as an “opener” would prove favorable against the top of the Roadrunners’ lineup.

Building off Sabouri’s momentum, left fielder Connor Mack lined a single into left field to bring in shortstop Cameron Eden for the Bears’ first run of the season. And the next inning, third baseman Sam Wezniak crossed home plate off a sacrifice fly from center fielder Max Flower, extending the Bears’ lead to 2-0.

Unfortunately for the Bears, this was the last lead they held in the game, as the Roadrunners popped off for three runs in the fourth inning. A solo home run by Cal freshman Grant Holman tied up the ballgame in the bottom of the fourth, but an error in the fifth allowed the Roadrunners to reclaim their lead. From there on, not a run was scored on either side, and Bakersfield won the game, 4-3.

The next day against Pepperdine, Cal first baseman Andrew Vaughn got the Bears on the board right off the bat with a two-run shot over the right-field wall. In the bottom of the first, Coach Neu remained faithful to the “opener” strategy and started relief pitcher Jack Wolger. In just one inning, however, Pepperdine drove in two runs and ended Wolger’s day on the mound.

Wolger was succeeded by right-hander Rogelio Reyes, who struck out eight batters and allowed only one unearned run through four stellar innings. During those four innings, Eden and Holman each drove in RBI singles to put the Bears back on top at 4-2.

After Reyes was pulled in the fifth, however, Pepperdine lit up Cal relievers Carson Olson and Ian Villers for four earned runs, and the Waves went up 5-4. Though an RBI knock from Flower tied it up at 5-5, the Bears couldn’t hold on and lost the ballgame, 7-5.

Cal’s woes continued into day three of the series, as the team committed a whopping six errors in a resounding loss against Northwestern. Sabouri once again took the mound as the game’s opener, but Northwestern scored two runs in the two innings he pitched. The lefty was pulled in the third, and shortly thereafter, all hell broke loose, and the Wildcats found themselves resting comfortably on a 9-2 lead by the time the ninth inning rolled around. Despite a late offensive surge led by a Mack home run, Cal fell to Northwestern 9-5 and collected its third loss of the weekend.

Although using an “opener” failed against Pepperdine and Northwestern, coach Neu remains confident in the strategy. “It’s something we will definitely do moving forward,” Neu said. “Just kind of see how it works and how we can continue to evolve it to give us a chance to win some of these games.”

Despite its struggles throughout the weekend, Cal continued to fight and avoided a sweep with a Monday afternoon victory over BYU. After a solo shot from usual suspect Vaughn and a two-RBI double from infielder Quentin Selma, Cal jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning. That lead was short-lived, however, and by the sixth inning, the Bears found themselves down 6-3.

But in the bottom of the sixth with the bases loaded, Wezniak worked a full count and tied the game up with a bases-clearing standup triple. Moments later, Holman launched a two-RBI double into left field, and the Bears sat atop the Cougars at 8-6. After tacking on a couple more runs and a solid performance from closer Sean Sullivan, the Bears wrapped up their 10-6 victory and caught a plane back to Berkeley.

“I think we got a little bit of momentum, and we know a little bit more about our guys,” Neu said. “Our goal with a young group like this is just to get better every single weekend, and it was good to get a win today and get a little momentum coming out of here.”

With each of its younger players now harboring some collegiate experience, Cal will be ready to bring the heat into its upcoming series against the Cal Poly Mustangs. As coach Morris Buttermaker in “The Bad News Bears” would say, that can only mean one thing: bad news for the Mustangs.

Joey Patton covers men’s swimming and diving. Contact him at [email protected].