Valentine’s Day can be rough — whether you’re single, in a relationship or on a baseball team not hitting enough singles against a California rival, the day of love can be hard to love.
Starting Feb. 14, Cal baseball dropped three of four games in its season-opening weekend by losing a three game series at Long Beach State and getting bludgeoned in UC Santa Barbara to the tune of a 17-7 from-behind Gauchos win.
Needless to say, now matter how clear their eyes and full their hearts, the Bears have lost winnable games and have shown only glimmers of their strength last season. The road trip’s disappointing outcomes, however extreme the losses, were not totally out of left field — Cal lost a considerable amount of talent last season to the majors, and most were expecting an adjustment period before new talent begins to come into its own.
“We just hope that some of the guys rise up by the time we get to conference,” said Cal head coach Mike Neu of the many fledgling freshmen donning blue and gold before the season got underway. “We’re excited about the potential of a lot of guys, we’re just very limited on experience.”
And experience they will get — with another three-game series against St. John’s this weekend, the Bears will have to dig deep into the roster, making it likely that many freshmen will get valuable time on the diamond. Freshmen Ethan Cloyd and Nathan Martorella turned in quality appearances at the dish, while Jake Skipworth notched an RBI in his sole at bat all weekend. Sophomore double threat Grant Holman recorded a 3.00 ERA, giving up only two earned runs in his six innings pitched and logged five hits, the second-highest contribution from a Bear, at the plate.
As promising as these performances were, Cal’s weekend rival, St. John’s, is riding a very high horse all the way out to Berkeley. Coming off an opening weekend capped by a win against a ranked opponent, the Johnnies saw their own youngsters deliver dominant performances that might strike fear into Andrew Vaughn himself — sophomore Ian Murphy struck out nine batters and allowed only two hits in five innings against No. 19 Georgia Tech. Freshman Jake Lazzaro struck gold on six of nine at bats over the road swing, slugging an absurd .889 and accumulating a .667 batting average that now sits pretty at sixth nationally.
The Johnnies also have depth in the rotation and experienced players that could pose problems for the Bears — even senior southpaw Nick Mondak, who gave up St. John’s opener last weekend, sent seven down swinging and likewise surrendered just two hits in five innings. Five Johnnies have a batting average greater than .300, with three of those players slugging over .500 as well.
Cal and St. John’s seem to have uncannily similar strengths and weaknesses which should translate into an competitive weekend and well-matched series that could give either team a chance to shine. It’s clear that Cal can contend, but the key to avoiding embarrassment in their home opening series will be to not let their inexperience get the best of them. St. John’s has heavy hitters, so good pitching on the Bears’ part will be just as crucial as steadily racking up runs.
The Bears will christen Evans Diamond for the first time this year at 6 pm. Friday under the lights, and whether or not they themselves will shine is in their own paws.