The TCU Horned Frogs and the Cal Bears have had quite different seasons in their first two weekends of regular season play before conference schedules begin.
Most notably, TCU remained at home for two out of three opening series and stayed perfect in both. Cal, who has played 7 out of its 11 games on the road, on the other hand, notched just a sole victory during its Valentine’s Day weekend road swing.
The Bears’ Leap Day weekend Texas road trip was quite the same. TCU and Cal’s tale of two seasons became clear after the Bears took to Fort Worth for a three-game set.
The visiting blue and gold dropped all three matchups, as the Horned Frogs mounted a comeback Feb. 28 and hung tight for victories against a strong-willed Cal pitching staff for the next two bouts.
Nevertheless, on the mound, the blue and gold turned in a promising set of performances. Sophomore two-way Grant Holman logged the longest outing of his career Feb. 29, recording a career-high seven strikeouts to just a single walk over 6 2/3 innings of work.
TCU’s offense, which averaged 9.6 runs per game entering the series, was limited by Cal pitchers across the board, as the Frogs plated just 14 runs over the three-game set.
Similarly, despite roping 16 hits over the weekend, the Bears struggled to shift baserunners, and in their 3-0, 4-hit loss Feb. 29, they went 1-for-12 with runners on. TCU emerged from the weekend with a 1.93 team ERA, which will likely propel the Frogs into the national top 20.
Regardless of inconsistencies against an elite pitching staff, the Feb. 28 bout began well for the Bears. They jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the second inning against TCU starter Johnny Ray, who boasts a 1.93 ERA of his own through 18 2/3 innings. Ray allowed 3 of his 4 earned runs on the season in his outing against the blue and gold, and given his .117 opposing batting average, these runs were significant for Cal.
In particular, freshman infielder Keshawn Ogans was crucial in the 5-4 loss Feb. 28, logging his second career multi-hit day in a 2-for-3 performance at the plate, which included an RBI double. Ogans, who juiced his first career homer against St. John’s on Feb. 23, sits at a .348 batting average through 27 plate appearances.
After making his first appearance of 2020 as a replacement catcher Feb. 29, sophomore utility Dom Souto made his first career start behind the plate March 1, and caught one out of two runners stealing in a solid, zero passed-ball weekend.
Aside from Souto, miscues plagued the Bears on March 1, as four errors amounted to a season-high. Cal fell 6-1, though Brandon McIlwain maintained his five-game hit streak.
Souto wasn’t the only one making his first start of the season, though, as sophomore righty Sean Sullivan’s highly anticipated return finally came in the series finale. It quickly ended after just two complete innings, however, as Sullivan allowed one earned run and failed to record a punch out. After nursing a back injury for the first two weeks of the season, he is still working on returning to full form.
Cal stacked the beginning of its schedule in 2020 — Long Beach State, UC Santa Barbara and TCU are exceptional programs. The experience the Bears gained against these squads provides ample preparation for an easier conference schedule. However, their most difficult test still lies ahead.
On Wednesday, the 2019 College World Series runner-up Michigan Wolverines travel to Berkeley for a sole bout amid a road swing that pits the Midwest squad against Stanford the day prior.
The No. 14 Wolverines are 6-4 this spring, with standout wins against No. 2 Vanderbilt in a CWS rematch and No. 9 Arizona State.
After taking their chances on the road and coming up short against the Horned Frogs, the Bears will test their confidence at home against another team with an equally contrary season tale to their season thus far.
As Cal nears Pac-12 play, the Bears will look to take their 3-8 story toward a more promising future. Elite challenges may be all the preparation they need to jumpstart a new tale.