Cal baseball’s playoff hopes take hit as team drops 2 of 3 to Creighton despite brilliant bullpen

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Update 5/21/18: This article has been updated to include quotes from Cal head coach Mike Neu. 

Getting off to a quick start can increase your chances of winning, but the start itself can’t guarantee wins. Cal baseball certainly experienced that this weekend, losing two of three at Creighton despite jumping out to early leads in all three games.

In the two Bears losses, they were unable to score after the third inning and answer back against the Bluejays.

“They played really good defense and they made the pitches and plays when they needed to,” said Cal head coach Mike Neu. “We had some opportunities to get back into the game or take the lead, and we just weren’t able to break through.”

Sophomore slugger Andrew Vaughn went 6 for 13 over the weekend with a home run. The blast was his 23rd of the year, which tied him with the school single-season record, which was set by Xavier Nady in 1999.

The Bears’ bullpen was fantastic over the weekend, doing its part to keep the offense within striking distance by allowing just two runs over 15 innings of work.

“It was a step in the right direction for a lot of those guys who have been improving as the year has gone on,” Neu said.

Game one (Final: 5-3, Creighton)

Cal jumped out to a quick start, scoring 2 on a single and a fielder’s choice after loading the bases with nobody out in the top of the first.

The Bears extended the lead to 3 with a sacrifice fly from freshman Sam Wezniak in the third, but the bats would go cold from there.

Junior Ryan Mantle got the Bluejays in flight in the bottom of the fourth with an RBI double, scoring sophomore Will Robertson.

The home team then soared in front in a four-run fifth inning.

Creighton freshman Evan Spry led off the frame with a long ball to make it a one-run game. Robertson followed four batters later with a game-tying RBI single.

Mantle drove in 2 with another double and knocked out Bears senior starter Matt Ladrech.

Creighton senior starter Ryan Tapani (10-1) picked up his 10th win of the year with a quality start, giving up just the three early runs over 6.2 innings pitched.

Game two (Final: 4-2, Creighton)

Deuces were wild in the middle game, as two fielder’s choice plays led to two Bears runs early in the second frame.

The Bluejays answered with two runs of their own, courtesy of a sophomore Jason Allbery sacrifice fly and a Spry RBI single.

The home team, celebrating Senior Day and playing in its final series of the year, jumped ahead in the third on junior Michael Emodi’s RBI single.

Spry drove in his second run of the game on a sacrifice fly in the fourth to make it a 4-2 game.

Cal threatened in the top of the fifth with two singles to start the frame, but Bluejays junior starter Mitch Ragan bore down and struck out the Bears’ heart of the order.

The losing pitcher of the evening was junior Aaron Shortridge (4-3), who relieved sophomore starter Jared Horn in the third. Shortridge gave up five hits in two innings of work.

“We did not think we were going to play the last game of the series, the weather was looking really bad,” Neu said. “I just didn’t want to take a chance and have one of our best pitchers not pitch in an important weekend.”

Game three (Final: 7-2, Cal)

The Bears struck first again, when Wezniak came around to score on a ground out after leading off the inning with a double.

Cal scored after the third inning for the first time all weekend on sophomore Cameron Eden’s RBI single.

Two batters later, junior Tyrus Greene plated another on a ground ball fielder’s choice.

Playing their last game of the regular season, the Bluejays fought back in the fourth, when Emodi hit what might be his final home run in a Creighton uniform — a two-run shot off junior starter Joey Matulovich.

The Bears bullpen made sure the early lead would not be relinquished this time, pitching the next 5.1 innings without allowing a run to score.

Vaughn was the story of the ninth inning, breaking the game wide open with a three-run bomb, giving him a long ball for five weekend series in a row.

The slugger would come to the mound for his first pitching appearance of the year and throw a scoreless inning. In his freshman year in 2017, Vaughn sported a 7.56 ERA in 10 appearances.


Leo Xie covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @leoxie_24