Cal baseball kicks off Pac-12 play against Utah

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The Cal baseball team has not been a model of consistency this season. But as the Bears (10-7) head to Salt Lake City this weekend to begin Pac-12 conference play against Utah (8-6), they have been riding an offensive surge and performances of stable pitching to a five-game winning streak.

The three-game series at Spring Mobile Ballpark should provide the Bears the opportunity to work out problems before competition heats up later in conference play. After sweeping Utah at home in 2012, it is conceivable that this year’s squad could extend its winning streak to eight games.

“Our biggest struggle is ourselves,” Cal infielder Chris Paul said. “All of the Pac-12 teams are good, so we just have to go out there and not beat ourselves.”

Paul has been one of the few continuously productive members of the starting lineup. The sophomore has been an offensive catalyst, leading the team in both RBIs (15) and home runs (2). He has started all 17 of Cal’s games and recorded a hit in 11 of them.

Cal right-hander Ryan Mason will get the start Friday. After starting the season as a reliever, Mason got his first career start last Saturday against Fresno State. The sophomore struck out seven in five innings of work, allowing one unearned run on three hits.

On Saturday, the Bears will send left-hander Justin Jones. The senior began the season as Cal’s No. 1 pitcher, but he struggled to find his form. In five appearances this season, Jones recorded a 5.12 ERA and walked 10 batters in 19.1 innings of work.

Cal coach David Esquer has not announced his starter for Sunday’s game.

Pitchers allowed opponents only 13 runs in the last five games. The turnaround has been driven by improved offensive consistency.

“(The pitchers) know that we’re going to put runs on the board for them,” redshirt freshman Brian Celsi said.

Those runs flooded in over the past five games. Since being shut out by Rice in their most recent loss on March 4, the Bears have scored 28 runs over the past five games.

In the beginning of the season, Esquer was unsure of his team. After losing nearly an entire recruiting class in 2011 when the program was cut, the team is young and inexperienced.

With no seniors in the starting lineup, the Bears could easily struggle with unproven players through a disappointing season with no postseason in sight. But with a newfound confidence derived from a winning record and a five-game winning streak, no one on the team is planning on this season being a rebuilding year.

“The attitude is let’s win a championship this year,” Celsi said. “Let’s win a Pac-12 championship. Let’s make a regional. Let’s make a super regional. Let’s go to the College World Series. I don’t think it’s a bridge year.

“I think it’s an exciting year because we have the potential to do something special.”

Warren Laufer covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected]