Cal baseball ends rollercoaster series against USC 1-2

A baseball player is about to strike the ball.
Ireland Wagner /Staff

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Cal baseball’s first conference series of the season against USC was like reaching into a magic hat three times and each time pulling out something completely different. Fans who watched each of the three games this weekend were taken on a rollercoaster ride — from a blown early lead and subsequent loss Friday to a dull game offensively Saturday to an extremely dramatic win for the Bears on Sunday. Overall, Cal walked away from the weekend with a 1-2 series loss.

On Friday, the game was tied 4-4 going into the eighth inning, and then, USC managed to put up five runs between the eighth and ninth innings to seal its 9-4 win.

Nobody was able to generate offensive action Saturday when the wind thwarted any big offensive plays. The lack of action did not ultimately benefit the Bears as they fell once again to the Trojans 1-0.

Sunday’s game, at first, threatened to be a low-scoring repeat of Saturday, as neither team got a run on the board until the fourth inning. As a result of four homers, the Bears were coasting into the ninth inning up 9-4. A number of pitching mistakes allowed the Trojans to tack on four more runs, bringing the score to 9-8 as Cal was sitting on zero outs in the ninth. Finally, a combination of pop-outs and an infield fly allowed the Bears to seal their 9-8 win over USC.

Most of Cal’s takeaways from this weekend are encapsulated in Sunday’s game alone. For one, the Bears have shown that they have a greater depth to their batting order than they ever could have imagined. As sophomore Andrew Vaughn’s offensive power was extremely diluted by intentional walks, a wide range of players had to step up to facilitate runs, including redshirt sophomore Brandon McIlwain, junior Cameron Eden and freshmen Sean Sullivan and Cole Elvis who all hit home runs.

After junior Korey Lee’s ejection from the game, designated hitter, Elvis, moved into the catcher spot, meaning that pitchers from that point on would have to hit for themselves. This is the circumstance that led both Sullivan and Elvis to be at the plate at such an unlikely time in the batting order and added to the novelty of both of their RBI homers.

Furthermore, Cal demonstrated that it needs to do some reconfiguration of its pitching lineup — especially figuring out which pitchers perform the best in high-pressure situations. On Sunday, a total of eight pitchers got time on the mound, evidencing the fact that the pitchers largely have low stamina, as they are unable to keep their quality for more than an inning or so at a time.

“We didn’t do a great job of getting the leadoff batter out. This game, seven of the nine leadoff batters got on base, and we really need to cut that down,” Sullivan said. “We just need to focus on first-pitch strikes, throwing the ball well, hitting our spots — that’s about it.”

Cal’s game this coming Tuesday night against the University of San Francisco will be a solid time for the Bears to test out any last-minute pitching strategies before heading up to Corvallis to face the reigning College World Series champions, Oregon State.

“We are definitely one of the younger teams of the Pac-12,” said head coach Mike Neu. “We are going to go through some of those ups and downs, but we are learning how to do well in a big spot, how to get a big hit and how to finish a game.”

Facing Oregon State this early in the season presents a unique challenge for Cal as it has established that it can level with top teams such as LSU, but it still struggles with inconsistency and sealing wins.

Cal vs. USF will take place Tuesday, March 19 at 7:05 p.m. at Evans Diamond.

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