Cal baseball fell short of nine consecutive wins Sunday but still emerged from the weekend as winners against Arizona. The Bears won the series with a 10-7 victory Friday and a 7-3 scoreline Saturday, despite dropping Sunday’s game 4-2.
Cal improved to 19-12 (7-5 Pac-12) after the road trip and is now tied for fifth place in the conference. Arizona now occupies seventh place in the table at 18-16 (6-9 Pac-12).
While fifth was a spot many Cal fans hoped the Bears would claim at this point in the season, the team was picked to finish eighth in the Pac-12 preseason coaches’ poll. By this standard, the Bears are not only exceeding expectations but are trending upward, especially with the emergence of a high-powered offense and the resurgence of junior pitcher Jared Horn.
Horn has served as an anchor in the Bears’ pitching staff since his return from injury in mid-March, posting a team-leading 2.03 ERA and an impressive 0.87 WHIP. Against the Wildcats, the junior was pivotal in the Bears’ game two win.
The series opener ended up being the slugfest that was expected of these two teams, but it took a while for both offenses to kick into gear.
In the top of the eighth inning, junior Andrew Vaughn broke a 4-4 deadlock between the Bears and Wildcats with a hard-hit single through the middle infield that scored Quentin Selma. The next batter, junior Korey Lee, then smashed a three-run homer to center field for the 8-4 Cal lead.
The hit earned Lee four RBIs on the day, marking the continuation of a productive season for the Bears catcher in the middle of the order.
Freshman Grant Holman plated two more runs in the inning with a double to left. The six-run inning proved too much for the Wildcats, who, despite putting up three more runs in the eighth and ninth were unable to make a full comeback.
Horn outshined all other competition in what turned out to be the deciding game of the series; the junior tossed nine strikeouts in eight innings while only allowing three runs on six hits and no walks.
But even with Horn’s dominance, the Bears faced a 1-0 deficit entering the fifth inning. After a throwing error by the Arizona shortstop allowed Cal sophomore Hance Smith to score and tie the game at 1-1, the Bears’ offense scored two runs in each of the sixth, seventh and ninth innings and secured Cal’s eighth consecutive victory — the program’s longest winning streak in four years.
Vaughn again had a productive day at the plate, reaching base five times on three hits and two walks.
On Sunday, the Bears fell to the Wildcats because of an uncharacteristically lacking offensive performance, preventing them from earning their third sweep in as many series.
Led by Holman and junior Rogelio Reyes, the pitching staff kept Cal within striking distance, but the lineup continually failed to string together hits and left a total of 12 runners on base.
As a result, Arizona took a 2-0 lead in the third inning and did not look back, tacking on two more in the eighth even after Vaughn’s RBI single cut the Wildcats’ lead in half.
Junior Cameron Eden impressed despite the loss with a 4-for-5 outing. Eden added a ninth-inning home run that brought to game to its final 4-2 scoreline.
Even with a loss, the Bears are suddenly the hottest team in the Pac-12. Their recent improvements will face a huge test Thursday, however, when Cal begins its three-game set against No. 1 UCLA.
Max Mennemeier covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected].