Louie Lechich is now a Torero. He is the bat that everyone fears in the San Diego lineup with his .548 average and 15 RBIs. To say he has been hitting the stitching off the ball is an understatement.
But he wasn’t always a Torero. The senior outfielder began his career at UC Berkeley, playing on the 2011 Bears’ College World Series team. He played alongside Cal seniors Vince Bruno and Devon Rodriguez when they were all freshman. But after the 2011 season, the left-hander transferred.
“He is a good player; that’s why we recruited him,” said coach David Esquer. “We were sorry to see Lechich go. I’m a little jealous they have him performing for them and not us.”
Now the collegiate careers of Bruno, Rodriguez and Lechich will cross once again when Cal (5-2) travels down to the San Diego Tournament. But this time, old friends will become new rivals.
“We were actually good friends when he was here,” Bruno said. “We have the same attitude, the temper and volume of voice. But once that first inning hits, we aren’t friends. He is just another jersey on the other team.”
In their second straight weekend tournament on the road, the Bears will play four games. On Friday, the Bears will match up against Baylor (5-2), a participant in the 2012 College World Series. Then on Saturday, the Bears will come face to face with UNC Wilmington (4-4). Cal wraps up the tourney with two games against Lechich and USD (6-1) on Sunday.
In the Tiger Classic last weekend, the Bears produced two shutouts against Auburn and Eastern Tennessee State, a testament to a much improved pitching staff in the 2014 campaign.
“We did something in the offseason that really paid dividends, we got more talented,” Esquer said. “We weren’t as deep last year, so guys were forced to pitch in roles that wasn’t their best opportunity to succeed, but it was out of necessity.”
Freshman Daulton Jefferies will start the weekend against Baylor, looking to improve upon his 13-scoreless-inning streak. Kyle Porter and Michael Theofanopoulos will be tasked with keeping Lechich and the high-powered San Diego offense in check.
At the plate, the Cal offense will look to hit its stride after a strong showing in its weekend sweep. After being limited in the last two games of the Texas series, the hitters held a meeting to air out some frustration.
The meeting yielded results, with the team putting up just more than five runs a game in Alabama. Leading the way is Bruno, who is batting .471 so far this year for second in the Pac-12. After missing a year due to injury, Bruno is playing his senior year at a higher level, which he hopes to continue to do down in San Diego.
“I have always been a fiery player; I looked like I’m pissed off when I’m playing,” Bruno said. “Its the mentality I like to have when I am up to bat. It’s also the last year mentality; as a senior, I do not want to let any chances slip by.”
And if anybody will come out ready to beat Lechich, it will be Bruno.
Austin Crochetiere covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected].