Sweeping Arizona was monumental for No. 16 Cal men’s baseball (26-14, 13-8 Pac-12). The effect of three consecutive wins in Tucson, Arizona — the first sweep of the Wildcats of coach Dave Esquer’s long career — can easily be quantified.
Going into the weekend, the Bears’ RPI was 74. They now sit in the top 50, at number 49.
But while numbers will be important later in the season, especially when Cal presents its resume to the College World Series selection committee, the real impact of this series victory is hard to qualify.
Before its series against the Wildcats, Cal had dropped three straight Pac-12 series. Without consistent offense and with lackluster defense, the Bears’ last series victory came against Utah fro March 27 through March 29. But then, the squad put the whole package together against Arizona, both at the plate and on the mound.
“We were thrilled — that was a big sweep,” said Cal junior left fielder Devin Pearson. “Especially coming off some struggling weekends. We played some inspired baseball.”
Coming off a dominating performance against one of the top offenses — ranked No. 17 in the country — the Bears are looking for fresh blood. Square in the crosshairs is longtime rival Fresno State (21-23, 11-10 in MWC), a team the Bears have already played this year and lost to, 7-2, back on March 25.
In that contest, Cal led, 2-1, for most of the game until falling apart in a six-run seventh inning. It was a surprising loss in what had been a successful season up to that point — part of a larger trend for the Bears.
“Historically, we have struggled with the midweek games,” Pearson said. “We play down to our opponent sometimes. I am not saying Fresno State is down — we just play to the level of our competition and not playing our level of competition.”
The two teams were supposed to play again April 7, but the game was postponed, designating this game as the last game between the two sides. This time around, however, Cal will have the services of Pearson, who has been hurt for the past few weeks.
Against Arizona, Pearson put together two quality games in the Saturday and Sunday contests, going one-for-three with two RBIs, then two-for-four with two runs in the rubber game.
“Everybody is getting healthy, but more importantly, everybody is getting comfortable in their roles,” Pearson said.
As for the Bulldogs, Cal’s pitching staff will closely monitor catcher Taylor Ward. The junior leads the team in RBIs (28), total bases (82) and runs (32).
Cal wants to maintain its momentum fresh off the sweep, but it knows this is a trap game, like all other midweek games in the past. Midweek games rarely involve flashy Pac-12 programs, but they always seem to cause Cal trouble.
But this contest will be different. The Bears are going for their 27th win of the season, which would surpass last years’ win total, and they have the confidence to pull off the feat.
“The difference this year is the team mindset,” Pearson said. “In the past, we just wanted to see how we did — but this year, we know we are good, and we will act as the aggressors.”
Austin Crochetiere covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected].