Five-run third inning dooms Bears against Cougars

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The Cal baseball team entered the bottom of the third inning on Friday with a tenuous 3-2 lead over Washington State.

That would be the high point of the evening for the Bears.

Two doubles, two singles, two wild pitches, a hit batter and five runs later, Cal’s one-run lead became a four-run deficit as Washington State cruised to a 10-4 victory at Bailey-Brayton Field in Pullman, Wash.

In the first game of a series between two teams fighting for a spot in the NCAA Tournament, Cal (23-19, 7-12 in the Pac-12) couldn’t overcome a sub-par outing from sophomore Michael Theofanopoulos in his worst performance of the season. The lefty never settled into a rhythm against against a formidable Washington State offense, struggling with his control throughout the evening. Theofanopoulos (3-4) allowed nine runs on eight hits in 3 1/3 innings of work, allowing two walks, three wild pitches and three hit-batters.

Cal had taken a one-run lead in the top of the third inning on an Andrew Knapp solo home run and a Chadd Krist RBI groundout. But that lead vanished in the bottom half of the inning.

The Cougars (23-18, 9-9) made the most of the opportunities Theofanopoulos gave them. Leadoff hitter Kyle Johnson started the third with a double, and advanced 90 feet on a wild pitch. Twice, the Cougars followed hit batters with run-scoring singles. After Taylor Ard was hit, Johnson scored on a Derek Jones RBI single. Later in the frame, Tommy Richards hit a two-run single after Theofanopoulos plunked Adam Nelubowich. Two batters later, a P.J. Jones double cleared the bases, extending Washington State’s lead to four.

Theofanopoulos’s day came to an early end in the fourth. With two outs, the Cougars added a run each on an RBI single and a Theofanopoulos run-scoring wild pitch. After issuing his second walk of the inning, the lefty was replaced by Chris Muse-Fisher, who went on to toss 2 1/3 scoreless innings.

The Bears wasted several chances to get back in the game. Cal left a runner on base in every inning, leaving a total of 11. The Bears struggled to bunch their eight hits together, never managing more than two in an inning. Washington State’s Tanner Chleborad (4-1) and Kellen Camus were just effective enough to keep Cal’s offense in check.

Cal will dispatch ace Matt Flemer (6-3, 1.98 ERA) tomorrow with hopes of curtailing its losing streak at four.