Cal baseball escapes Benedetti Diamond with narrow victory over USF

Zichen Zhao/File

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While the first chunk of Cal baseball’s games were relatively stress-free, the Bears’ past couple of trips to the diamond have had them biting their pine tar-ridden nails to the core and their midweek trip to San Francisco proved to be more of the same.

Behind timely performances by its defense and pitching staff, Cal (12-4) narrowly escaped Benedetti Diamond with a narrow 5-4 victory over the University of San Francisco (9-7).

Not only was this the Bears’ sixth straight win, but it was their fourth straight decided by one run. In Cal’s first 12 games of the season, no game was decided by one run.

“I think we’ve done a great job,” said head coach Mike Neu. “You’d like to win every game handily, but I thought they did a nice job coming through in some big spots.”

The Bears may have escaped San Francisco with the dub, but the Dons could very well have mounted a comeback and defended their home territory if not for Cal’s meddling center fielder, junior Tanner Dodson.

With runners at the corners and only one out in the bottom of the eighth, Dodson caught a fly ball in shallow right center off the bat of junior Jonathan Allen and then fired the ball home.

Dodson, who doubles as a pitcher, has quite the arm, but USF senior Aaron Ping decided to test Cal’s two-way star. Wrong choice.

The junior fired a perfect bullet on one hop to gun down Ping at the plate. The bottom half of the inning was over and, by extension, so were USF’s chances of coming back.

Sophomore Arman Sabouri, who cleaned up the mess he inherited in the eighth, shut the door on the Dons with a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth, securing the bag.

“It was a big-time play,” Neu said.

Dodson’s heroics weren’t limited to his arm as he chipped in a pair of hits, bringing his batting average on the season up to .310.

Sophomore Andrew Vaughn made some noise once again with a solo jimmy jack in the top of the third, his 10th home run of the season. He’s now only two home runs away from tying his total from last season with 38 regular-season games remaining.

After the victory, Cal will have several days to prepare for its most daunting task yet, if not for the entire season, when No. 1 Oregon State rolls into Evans Diamond for a three-game showdown this weekend.

The showdown between the Bears and Beavers will, unfortunately, fall short of reaching its full entertainment value.

Oregon State junior Nick Madrigal, the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year, suffered a wrist injury in late February and is expected to miss another couple of weeks of action. With Madrigal sidelined, Vaughn has emerged as the early frontrunner to take home the honor this season.

Even with Madrigal stuck on the bench for now, the Beavers are not without some offensive weapons, namely sophomore Adley Rutschman and junior Trevor Larnach.

Rutschman currently has a team-high .408 batting average while Larnach has a team-high six home runs. Only 16 games into the season, Larnach has already doubled last season’s dinger total of three.

Rutschman and Larnach, among the Beavers’ other big boppers, have the potential to make it a long weekend for the Bears’ pitching staff.

Heading into the series, junior Joey Matulovich is the only Cal starter with a sub-five ERA on the season. The four starting pitchers who have started at least three games have a combined ERA of 5.51 over 80 innings pitched.

“We know they’re a good team,” Neu said. “They’re ranked No. 1 in the country for a reason. They’re very well coached, they return a lot of players from last year’s team and they play hard all the time. We know it’s going to be a tough series, but we’re feeling good.”

Justice delos Santos is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @jdelossantos510