In its most anticipated series of the 2019 season, the red-hot Cal baseball team journeyed down the I-5 last weekend and fought for California in a three-game series against No. 1 UCLA.
Catcher Korey Lee kicked off the series by blasting a solo shot over the right-field wall to give the Bears a 1-0 lead in the top of the second. Over the next couple of innings, both Cal and UCLA put runs on the board, and the Bruins claimed a 3-2 lead heading into the fifth.
UCLA’s lead was short-lived, though, as Cal third baseman Quentin Selma popped a three-run homer into right to put the Bears back on top at 5-3. Lee extended the lead to 7-3 with his second dinger of the game, bringing an end to UCLA starter Zach Pettway’s day on the mound.
In the bottom of the fifth, Cal pitcher Sam Stoutenborough immediately got himself into a jam by loading the bases before recording a single out. Bruins second baseman Chase Strumpf took advantage of the situation and roped a two-RBI single into left. After surrendering those runs, Stoutenborough limited the damage and wiggled his way out of the inning at 7-5.
After giving up a run and allowing runners at the corners to start the eighth inning, Stoutenborough was relieved by freshman Sean Sullivan. Sullivan gave up an RBI single to UCLA’s Kevin Kendall, loaded the bases, and gave up the tying run by hitting third baseman Ryan Kreidler with a pitch.
Although Cal put a runner on base in the top of the ninth, UCLA closer and Pac-12 saves leader Holden Powell held the Bears to no runs, and the Bruins took their last ups tied at 7-7. Once again, Sullivan loaded the bases and issued an RBI walk to outfielder Garrett Mitchell, and the Bruins walked it off at 8-7.
The next night, Bears ace Jared Horn faced off against his old summer ball teammate Ryan Garcia, a right-hander who boasted the Pac-12’s second-lowest ERA coming into the ballgame. What was expected to be the weekend’s marquee matchup lived up to every ounce of anticipation.
As expected, both Horn and Garcia pitched brilliantly, each pitcher allowing only one earned run through their first six innings. Garcia was pulled at the conclusion of the sixth, and the junior headed back to the dugout with nine strikeouts on the night.
Garcia was succeeded by redshirt senior Nathan Hadley, a hard-throwing right-hander who entered the game with a 6-0 record. Hadley’s velocity didn’t prove problematic, though, as Grant Holman led off the inning with a shot single into center field. Two batters later, center fielder Cameron Eden stepped into the box, worked a count and launched a fastball over the wall into left field to give the Bears a 3-1 lead.
“They were offspeed-heavy, so I was going in looking for a slider, something down in the zone,” Eden explained. “I was trying to not let them beat me down and try to get pitch up, and I ended up getting a fastball up that I got the barrel on.”
Andrew Vaughn followed Eden’s blast with a solo bomb of his own that still hasn’t landed, and the Bears took the game 4-1. In his fantastic outing, Horn tossed a career-high 8.1 innings and fanned 10 batters in the process.
“I was just coming out treating it like a regular start,” Horn said. “I know they’re No. 1 in the nation, but I was just trying to attack them, let my defense work and just try to get ahead of guys like normal.”
The Bears were unable to duplicate their success the next day and dropped the series’ rubber match 1-6. UCLA’s Jack Ralston held Cal to just one run through 6.1 innings, and his bullpen did a fantastic job keeping Cal off the board through the game’s late innings.
Despite the 1-2 series loss, the Bears’ impressive performance against the nation’s top-ranked program resulted in a leap from No. 64 to No. 44 in the college baseball RPI rankings.
“Any time you’re facing the No. 1 team in your conference and No. 1 team in the country on the road, you know it’s going to be a tough battle, but it’s also an opportunity,” said head coach Mike Neu. “We’re happy with the position we’re in. Huge win for our program, huge win for this group of guys.”
Joey Patton covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected].