Cal baseball readies to face Dons on Tuesday

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Senior Chris Paul is not a starting point guard for the Los Angeles Clippers, nor has he ever led the NBA in steals six times — but he is slowly making a name for himself, playing first base for the Cal baseball team (15-4, 2-1 Pac-12).

A week after fellow junior Brian Celsi was named National Player of the Week, Paul was awarded Pac-12 Player of the Week for his stellar performance against Pacific and then-No. 8 Oregon.

On a team known for its young talent, Paul and the senior class have provided leadership through example. The first baseman was six for 10 with four runs, two doubles, two home runs and six RBIs last week in the four games.

“He has developed himself,” said head coach David Esquer. “He has worked hard with (assistant) coach Brad Sanfilippo, and he has put in a lot of hours to iron some things out.”

Paul, who was crucial in Cal’s 11-0 romp over the University of San Francisco on March 4, will once again power the Bears when they face the Dons (7-13, 2-1 WCC) for the second time this season Tuesday afternoon at Benedetti Diamond.

USF has gotten hot as of late, winning six of its last eight games, including two wins against Oregon, the same top-25 squad Cal overcame in two of three contests this past weekend.

“I think they are a way better team than when we played them the first time,” Esquer said. “They beat Oregon twice, we beat Oregon twice. They figured out some things.”

The Dons’ most recent series victory comes against West Coast Conference rival Gonzaga, but the three-game set did not finish until late Monday night because of rain in San Francisco, giving the squad no time to prepare for the Bears. Whether the lack of rest between opponents will affect USF’s preparedness remains to be seen.

The last time the two squads met, the Dons’ seemed unprepared as Cal jumped out fast before USF could blink. Paul blasted a three-run homer in the first inning, and that’s all starter Jeff Bain would need in run support, lasting six innings and not yielding a single run.

This time around, however, Bain is not available to start because he was a last-second replacement for ace Daulton Jefferies on Friday against the Ducks. Therefore, Esquer will turn to his bullpen to get through the midweek contest before the Bears restart conference play against Washington on Friday.

“It will be by committee,” Esquer said. “It won’t be one guy this time. We are going to split it up among all our pitchers, similar to what we did against Pacific.”

Against the Tigers, Cal ran four pitchers out on the mound, including starter Collin Monsour, who got roughed up a bit in his one inning of work, yielding four runs.

As for the Cal offense, the Bears might be without the services of star third baseman Lucas Erceg. The sophomore suffered an injury in the Sunday contest against the Ducks, when he collided with a base runner while trying to field a ball. The Bears are also still awaiting the return of junior Devin Pearson, who has missed the past few contests with an undisclosed injury.

When it comes to USF’s offense, the Bears need to worry about catcher Dominic Miroglio both offensively and defensively. The sophomore is hitting .375 this year and leads the Dons in hits and RBIs. But his impact is best seen behind the plate, when he is working with the USF pitching staff.

As of late, however, it doesn’t matter who’s behind Paul at the plate, as the senior has been a hitting machine.


Austin Crochetiere covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected].