SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — The beauty of a spark lies in the pure power it possesses. The reverberations of a single action can send shockwaves up and down the collective spines of an otherwise lethargic group, emitting an infectious wave of energy that lead to a victory.
Some can provide that spark with their power. Others can provide it with their finesse. Sophomore Darren Baker, however, does it with his speed, and the second baseman’s quickness provided just the spark Cal needed to hold off San Francisco, 10-5.
“(Assistant coach) Damon (Lessler) and I were on the same page when it got to two strikes,” Baker said. “If he picked to first base, I was going to take off, and it worked out.”
With two outs in the top of the seventh inning and the Dons’ freshman left-hander Kasey Koppelmaa on the mound, the Bears had a pair of runners on the corners with Baker on third and sophomore Sam Wezniak on first. Koppelmaa tried to catch Wezniak sleeping with a back pick to first, but with the southpaw turning a blind eye to third, Baker bolted for the plate.
Upon Koppelmaa’s first move, Baker sprinted down the third-base line and just barely managed to beat the throw to the plate, giving Cal another critical insurance run at an important juncture in the contest. It wasn’t a traditional steal of home, but it provided the same spark nonetheless.
“It’s always against the lefties because that pick move — they can’t see me, and I can get way off on third base,” Baker said. “Right situation, right time, and it worked out.”
There’s no better way to display baserunning prowess than by stealing home, but just getting to third base was a testament to how Baker’s speed can affect a game. Before swiping home, Baker legged out an infield single, stole second base easily and advanced to third on a wild pitch.
“He just does some things like that,” said head coach Mike Neu. “His instincts out there are really, really good, offensively and defensively. It really showed up on the bases today.”
Baker’s steal of home was as important as it was exciting. Cal put up a four-spot in the first inning and a blowout seemed on the horizon, but San Francisco began chipping away, getting the score to 5-4 in favor of the Bears by the bottom of the fifth.
Junior Cameron Eden provided an insurance run in the top of the sixth with a sacrifice fly, extending the Cal’s lead to 6-4, but Baker’s steal gave his squad the juice, scoring the second of five unanswered runs to put the game away.
“We play these guys every year, and it’s always a pretty competitive game,” Baker said. “They can swing it; we can swing it. They battle. It’s a really scrappy team, so they’re never out of it. Later in the game, we were able to put them away, but it’s never over against these guys.”
Baker is right in his assessment that his team knows how to swing. Every batter with multiple plate appearances totaled at least one hit, and Baker, Eden, Wezniak, sophomore Quentin Selma and junior Korey Lee had multi-hit days.
Per the midweek norm, Neu sent a plethora of hurlers to the mound — seven in total — but it was a bit of mixed bag with some positives and negatives blended in.
Rotation regulars freshman Grant Holman and junior Rogelio Reyes put in some fine work in their last tuneup before facing No. 22 Stanford. Holman set a nice tone as the opener, tossing two innings of scoreless ball and striking out one, while Reyes was dominant out of the bullpen, striking out four over his 1.2 innings of work.