Bunting’s homer powers Cal to first conference sweep

Michael Gethers/Staff
Junior southpaw Justin Jones pitched seven innings and only allowed one run in Sunday's tilt.

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For the first time all season, the Cal baseball team swept a Pac-12 opponent. The Bears took all three matchups against Utah, the latest — a 5-2 victory — coming Sunday afternoon at Evans Diamond.

Lefty Justin Jones led the way with seven solid innings, giving up one run on three hits despite walking four batters and striking out five. The game was a very bumpy one for the junior, who hit Tyler Relf on the first pitch of the game. Jones nonetheless went on to earn the victory.

“He is competing out there, trying to do the best with what he has,” said head coach David Esquer. “He’s gaining on that A game.”

But more impressive than Jones’ performance for the Bears (23-15, 7-8 in Pac-12) was the way their bats and defense stepped up.

All but one Cal batter had a hit on the day. Mitch Delfino, Tony Renda and Vince Bruno led the way with two hits apiece.

The scoring began early for the Bears, as Mitch Delfino and Chadd Krist both had RBI doubles in the first inning against Utah starter Mitch Watrous. Cal scored two more in the sixth off a Chris Paul single before the Utes began a late comeback. Utah scored once in the seventh and once in the eighth, narrowing Cal’s lead to 4-2.

The Utes came close, but Chad Bunting made sure they came no closer than two runs. Bunting hit his team-leading eighth home run of the season — his third of the series — in a monster slam over the left center field wall in the eighth.

Shortstop Chris Paul committed Cal’s only error of the series, a misfield on a hard-hit ball. However, Utah couldn’t capitalize on the mistake.

“You know, I think our bats are starting to come around,” Esquer said. “(Our defense) has been better of late, but we need to be consistently better, or else it’s just inconsistency.”

Coming off a sweep, the Bears seem to be hitting their stride offensively. They hit six home runs against the Utes, nearly equaling the eight that Utah had given up all season prior to this weekend’s series.

Cal asserted its dominance early in the series, taking the first two games 9-4 and 9-0. The team scored a total of 23 runs in the series, while giving up just six.

The Bears will need all the help they can get going into the home stretch of the season. In order to secure a spot in the postseason, the Bears will have to look more like the team that has won six of their last seven, rather than the team that lost its first three Pac-12 series.

“If we mirror our first half performance, I think that we can be a playoff team,” Esquer said. “I think 14 (wins in the conference) is enough to get a team in.”