With the sun out again in Berkeley, it is officially starting to feel like baseball season, right in time for the start of Pac-12 play. Coming off a 13-0 blowout of San Jose State on Tuesday night, the Cal baseball team is brimming with confidence as it moves into its first conference series against USC this weekend.
The Bears’ win over the Spartans was highly significant because it was facilitated by a diverse group of players on the team — eight of nine starting batters tallied hits yesterday, and Cal experimented with seven different pitchers. This proves that the Bears have the depth to hold a team scoreless while also notching runs on offense.
Offensively, Cal has the upper hand on USC, touting a batting order with six players over .300. Junior Andrew Vaughn has continued to be a threat, as he has already totaled seven home runs and 20 hits so far this season.
The key to success for Cal will be to recapture the offensive momentum it developed in its high-scoring innings against San Jose State. In the fourth and seventh innings, the Bears scored five and six runs, respectively.
“All of our guys — one through nine — can swing it really, really well, and we do a good job backing up our pitchers by putting up run support throughout the game, and I think our (mentality) is in the right spot to head into conference with a lot of confidence,” said sophomore Tommy Henderson.
The Trojans, on the other hand, have struggled thus far in their season, with a 5-10 record that includes key losses to lesser teams such as UC Santa Barbara and UCLA. This is not to say that USC will not rise to the challenge at Evans Diamond; last year, the Trojans took two of three games against the Bears in Los Angeles.
As far as pitching goes, it seems as though USC might have an advantage in the matchup. While Cal has an extraordinarily young pitching staff, the Trojans are returning many of their main starting and relieving pitchers from last season. This means that USC might have more stability on the mound, while the Bears’ starters and subsequent pitchers for any given game have been a bit of a toss-up.
Another interesting point of comparison for USC and Cal is their catching position. While junior Korey Lee has been a consistent catcher for the Bears since his freshman year, USC redshirt junior CJ Stubbs is transitioning into the catching role this year after two years of pitching and redshirting last season.
Cal has extremely high expectations going into conference play this year, boosted by the fact that it has been steadily improving both offensively and defensively each game.
“We want to be able to win the Pac-12, and that’s a great honor right there just because in my mind, the Pac-12 is the best conference in all of college baseball,” said Cal baseball assistant coach Noah Jackson. “When we step into Pac-12 play, you know, it’s difficult, and every single game is going to be high-intensity, so it’s just finding a way to compete, pitch by pitch and inning by inning.”
Holding their own against a ranked LSU, the Bears demonstrated that they can be competitive with the top teams in the Pac-12, including Oregon State, UCLA and Stanford.