For Cal pitcher Justin Jones, it’s been a long way back since his injury last season. The lefty’s return to the mound this season has been marred by inconsistency, but on Sunday at Washington State, he was back to his old dominant self.
Jones pitched a complete game shutout for the first time this season, allowing two hits, one walk and six strikeouts. For the last four innings, Jones pitched perfectly, allowing no Cougar to reach base at Bailey-Brayton Field. Backed by the hot bats of Mitch Delfino and Vince Bruno, the Bears soundly defeated Washington State 8-0 to win the series.
It was the first complete game by Jones since May 7, 2011, against Oregon State. Jones allowed six hits, two runs and eight strikeouts to get the win.
Cal (24-19, 9-12 in the Pac-12) direly needed a strong performance in Pullman, Wash. to keep their fading postseason hopes alive. Cal coach David Esquer calculated before the series that the Bears would need to win at least seven of their last 13 games to make the NCAA Tournament. Two or more wins at Washington State were essential.
The Cougars (23-20, 9-11) were by far the weakest opponent remaining in Cal’s season. The next three opponents — Arizona, UCLA and Stanford — are all in the top 20 in national rankings. With two wins under their belt, the Bears will have more margin for error when playing against the baseball giants of the conference.
The series started out rough for Cal, as it was routed in a 10-4 loss on Friday. Behind ace Matt Flemer and Chad Bunting’s three-run home run in the seventh inning, the Bears tied the series on Saturday with a 9-4 victory.
Cal started the top of the first inning with a bit of luck, as Cougars starter J.D. Leckenby couldn’t control his pitches. After hitting leadoff hitter Danny Oh and a single from Andrew Knapp, Leckenby threw a wild pitch that sent Oh home from third base. Two batters later, Bruno brought Knapp home to double Cal’s lead.
In the third inning, the Bears took advantage of Leckenby’s erratic pitching once again. After doubling earlier in the inning, Bruno came around home when Leckenby threw yet another wild pitch.
After the fiascoes in the first and third innings, Leckenby finally settled down for the next three innings. Before being pulled out in the seventh inning after walking Oh yet again, the sophomore left the mound with a 3-0 deficit.
Pulling out Leckenby turned out to be the fatal mistake for the Cougars. Washington State’s two bullpen pitchers, brought on to get out of the inning unscathed, instead gave up four runs to the Bears, ending any hopes for a Cougars comeback.
After loading the bases with one out, Bruno hit a single for the second Cal RBI of the day. Chadd Krist and Chad Bunting followed Bruno’s lead with a sacrifice fly and a successful squeeze bunt. Mike Reuvekamp capped it all off with a double down left field for the seventh run.
In the eighth inning, Bruno slapped a single into center field for his third RBI of the afternoon, bringing home Cal’s eighth and final run.