Cal baseball displays grit while sweeping Cal Poly

Pitcher throws ball towards batter.
Lianne Frick/File

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Grit. It’s a word used frequently to describe sports such as soccer, basketball or tennis that involve constant running and going after balls, but the word is not used enough in regard to baseball. Grit in baseball looks like recentering and pitching scoreless innings when you are down several runs. It looks like using every last minute of a game to diligently chip away at a deficit.

Grit is what Cal baseball exhibited this weekend as it swept Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. This series was essential to not only pushing the Bears’ record above .500 but also showing they can play well when confronted by a variety of situations.

On Friday, the Bears proved they can gain and then maintain a lead over an opponent. In the first four innings, Cal was up 6-2 and held Cal Poly to only two runs for the remaining innings to solidify its 10-2 win. The Bears also eliminated errors, tallying zero as compared to their six errors last week against Northwestern.

Saturday’s game got off to a shaky start, with Cal Poly scoring four runs to Cal’s one in the first inning. Recentering themselves after the initial pitching snafu, the Bears managed to shut out the Mustangs for the remainder of the game and score in both the third and sixth innings, ultimately reversing the final score to 5-4 in favor of Cal.

On Sunday, after five scoreless innings, Cal Poly put three runs on the board in the sixth, marking the second time the Bears had been down by three that weekend. Finally generating some offensive action at the very end of the game, Cal went on to win 5-3 after a combination of efforts thwarted any more Mustang runs and loaded the bases again and again for the Bears. Cal scored five runs between the eighth and ninth innings, four of which were facilitated by junior Korey Lee.

“I wasn’t really giving them much of any advice (in the last two innings). I think they knew that they had to step it up offensively after the slow offensive start to the game,” said Cal baseball head coach Mike Neu.

While the usual suspects, juniors Andrew Vaughn (.524) and Max Flower (.321), pushed the team forward when most needed, the Cal sweep this weekend would not have been possible without the efforts from a wide range of players.

Freshman Grant Holman stood out offensively in the first game, with two RBIs out of five at-bats. Redshirt sophomore Brandon McIlwain had an eventful Friday, notching three runs into his scoreless stat sheet.

A couple freshmen pitchers stood out this weekend, including Sam Stoutenborough, who pitched six runless innings and only gave away one walk in Friday’s game. In the last game of the series, Holman started off the game with five runless innings as well.

While the success of young pitchers may demonstrate that Cal is ready to settle down into a more traditional pitching approach, the Bears want to continue working the diversity of the pitching staff to their benefit.

“I think we are going to continue with the (opener) pitching strategy. We would like to have the young guys continue to be bookended by the experienced relievers. Sometimes it has worked really well and other times not, but we are still perfecting it,” Neu said.

While Cal still has a lot to perfect this coming week in preparation for its home opener Thursday, the sweep was just what the Bears needed to energize them moving forward.

Lucy Schaefer covers baseball. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @lucyjschaefer.