The first game of the season is one of the biggest tests for any sports team. Not only does it put months of off-season training to the test, but it also gives the chance to separate from the rest of the crowd early on. And for a young Bears squad that consists mostly of freshmen and sophomores, the first game of the season hoped to provide an early opportunity to dispel any doubts that age and experience will play a role this season.
And while the Bears did not fail the test, there was definitely room for improvement.
On the first game of an unscheduled, weather-induced doubleheader, the Cal Men’s baseball team (1-1) fell to the Broncos (1-1), 6-4, in what could best be attributed to growing pains. Although the Cal bats were anything but stagnant, pitching and defense proved to be the Bears’ Achilles heel.
Cal had two errors early on, with the latter error proving most costly. Sophomore Denis Karas’ E5 mearley gave the Mustangs an extra opportunity to score in the first inning, but Lorenzo Hampton, Jr.’s error from left field in the third awarded Cal Poly a 1-0 lead.
The infield, which was the one of the biggest question marks for the Bears coming into the season, took a giant hit this week when junior Preston Grand Pre — the only returning starter from the 2016 season — broke his hand during practice. As his replacement at shortstop, freshman Anthony Walters showed hustle but had a few balls sneak under his glove, which helped Cal Poly obtain a 5-0 lead.
Sophomore pitcher Tanner Dodson zipped through the first two innings but ran into trouble shortly after. He was pulled from the game in the fourth inning because of a combination of the strong Mustang offense and iffy Cal defense. Freshman Arman Sabouri relieved him after 3.1 innings, striking out his first batter and completing a 1-3 putout on his second.
One thing that Cal did prove in its loss was that its new lineup has some major pop. The Bears connected on a whopping 17 hits over nine innings to go along with their four runs.
Jeffrey Mitchell, Jr. put Cal on the board in the fourth inning with a tapper to shortstop to bring sophomore Jonah Davis home with some help from an E6. Hampton, Jr. made up for his early error in the sixth, smashing a double to left center field to bring in another run and cut Cal Poly’s lead to 6-2. Walters brought in one more run following Hampton with a single. And Dodson, who stayed in the lineup as the designated hitter, drove in the Bears’ final run of the day in the seventh.
The Bears would fall 6-4 in the first game of the day, setting the stage for the second game of the doubleheader.
Freshman pitcher Jared Horn took the mound Saturday night in the Bears’ second game of the doubleheader. He was able to show a level of consistency early on, which was crucial as the Mustangs once again came out strong.
“I think we did a great job in the first matchup with not just handing them a win,” said Cal head coach David Esquer. “Both of our starters today need to be better, and eventually will be better when it comes to getting us pasts five innings.”
Despite this, the Bears were able to take a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the fourth inning. Mitchell, Jr. got the inning started out right with a single to center field, eventually finding his way to second after a ground out. Walters took advantage of the opportunity, allowing Mitchell to score home after driving a ball down the left field line.
The game would eventually tie up at three all after the Mustangs and Bears exchanged home runs in the fifth inning.
This set the stage for the deciding play of the game in the bottom of the sixth inning, when Reyes came up to bat with the bases loaded. He was able to find contact with the ball, driving it down the center of the infield and allowing sophomore Tyrus Greene to score off an error.
Sophomore reliever Joey Matulovich brilliantly pitched three innings, striking out one and, most importantly, allowing no earned runs. This set the stage for the Bears’ junior closer Erik Martinez to enter the game in the top of the ninth inning.
Martinez fell into trouble early on, instantly giving up two back-to-back hits to freshman Nick Meyer and junior Michael Sanderson. This subsequently put runners on first and second with no outs, instantly putting pressure on Martinez in his first attempted save of the year.
And he responded in impressive fashion, striking out the next three batters to secure the save and Cal’s first victory of the year.
“Sometimes the inning doesn’t always start off as clean as you wish it could be, but you can’t worry about the past and just have to attack the next batter,” Martinez said. “My teammates had my back the whole time, so they really created a great environment for me to come in and pitch.”