Though they may not have an Axe to show for it, Cal took down rival Stanford 8-4 at home at Evans Diamond in a nonconference barn burner Tuesday evening.
The Bears exacted revenge on the Cardinal after dropping last year’s series to them in the rubber match despite winning game two by an 18-2 scoreline.
“It always feels good to beat Stanford. They’re the cross-bay rival, so that’s always good when the Golden Bears end up on top,” said sophomore pitcher and first baseman Grant Holman following the victory.
Sophomore pitcher Lucas Gather made easy work of the Cardinal in the first two innings, striking out one and allowing a singular hit. Stanford was only able to score in the third after senior Nick Bellafronto tripled to center and was sent to the plate after a groundout from teammate Christian Robinson.
Cal didn’t hesitate to knock one of its own in at the bottom of the frame — a walk and pair of errors from Cal loaded the bases for the Pac-12 Player of the Week, junior Quentin Selma, who launched a long shot to center that gave freshman Ethan Cloyd just enough time to make it home.
Stanford and the Bears kept each other silent through the next three innings with fresh pitchers taking the mound for both squads. A spattering of hits in the fourth didn’t bear fruit for either team, and it wasn’t until the top of the seventh when a double down the line from Stanford’s Robinson sent pinch runner Owen Cobb back to the plate. An RBI from Nick Brueser notched another run for the Cardinal to put them ahead 3-1.
But when it comes to Stanford, Cal is never quick to roll over. In the bottom of the seventh, the Bears put two on base with consecutive singles from freshmen Steven Zobac and Cloyd before Keshawn Ogans loaded the bases, landing at first on a fielder’s choice and a Stanford error at shortstop. Second baseman Darren Baker was then walked by mid-inning pitching change Cody Jensen before Selma flew out to left field, allowing Cloyd to score and tie it up at 3-3.
Another walk kept the bags full as Holman took to the plate. After a sweeping strike, Holman connected to sky a double to right field, bringing 3 RBI across the plate and putting the Bears up 6-3. Brandon McIlwain, who hit into three double plays across two games against previous opponent St. John’s, finally got his lucky break by clearing the fences with his first home run of the season that scored both him and Holman.
“It always feels good to help out the team,” Holman said. “Every time I’m just going up there trying to do my job, and driving in the runners was my job. So it felt good to do it.”
The 7-run, 4-hit inning ended with the Bears ahead 8-3. Stanford mustered one more run in the top of the eighth but couldn’t kick-start a comeback, and Zobac struck out all three batters in the ninth frame to put the nail in the Cardinal coffin.
“I thought our guys did an awesome job. We stayed in the game the whole time. We got down a little bit late in the game and we just stayed the course,” said head coach Mike Neu. “I thought our pitching and defense was really good the whole way, and then the offense stepped up and just stayed steady through the game.”
Even with six pitching changes, every Bear that took the mound was able to keep the Cardinal at bay. Digging deep into the rotation also allowed more hurlers to show their stuff, which will prove critical further into the season if injuries arise.
The Bears will head to Fort Worth, Texas this weekend to face TCU, the team that trounced Cal in the first round of last year’s regionals. If Tuesday’s win against Stanford proved anything for the Bears, however, it’s that bad blood can breed good baseball.