10th inning terror: from-behind USF win robs Cal of 1st series victory

Andrew Chan/Staff

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One of the hardest lessons to learn as a kid is that you don’t always get what you want. Cake for breakfast, every toy in the aisle or different shoes to complement each outfit you own seem reasonable when you don’t know any better.

Cal baseball wanted to win its series against USF this weekend, and until the ninth inning of the rubber match, it looked like the Bears had it in the bag. A two-run ninth frame to tie the game backed by five more trips around the plate in the 10th gave the Dons an unlikely 8-3 from-behind win over the Bears, who had the lead the entirety of the game. The sobering loss puts Cal at 4-11 on the season, the team’s worst start of the century.

Friday night’s game kicked off the series at Evans Diamond and was a bitter battle in the bitter cold that, despite Cal’s every effort, tacked another loss onto the Bears’ five-game losing streak.

USF jumped out to an early lead that it wouldn’t concede, notching 4 runs over the first four frames thanks to Robert Emery’s 2 dingers. Pitcher Sam Stoutenborough’s damage control kept USF on a short leash for the remainder of the game, striking out four and only walking one over a season-high seven innings. Freshman designated hitter Nathan Martorella was the only Bear to score that evening, sending his first career homer over the right field fences in the bottom of the seventh.

As if to foreshadow the next game at Evans, the loss was largely attributable to small Cal mistakes that lead to big offensive opportunities for USF — the Bears had two errors, left five of their own on base and capitalized on only one of their 4 hits.

“We know how good of a defensive team we can be. I think everything just comes back to being prepared and having a little bit better focus. All our guys can make all the plays that need to be made, we just need to do it,” said senior right fielder Max Flower after the series finale.

The bright spot of the weekend ironically came on the rainiest day Berkeley has seen in months. Though the sky was overcast at USF’s Benedetti Diamond, the clouds over Cal baseball’s woes parted as the Bears secured their first win in two weeks.

Pitcher and first baseman Grant Holman’s assertive showing on the mound was coupled with Cal’s highest-scoring offensive performance since its 8-4 win over Stanford last month. The righty kept the Dons scoreless until the seventh inning, while another home run from Martorella in the first frame ignited the Bears’ bats for the rest of the contest. Quentin Selma, Steven Zobac, Brandon McIlwain and Flower all pitched in to break the Bears’ dry spell with a 6-1 win.

Vying for its first series victory of the year, there was no doubt Cal was hungry for a win Sunday. Scoring chances were few and far between for the Bears until the fifth and sixth frames — a single from Ethan Cloyd, a USF error and a sacrifice fly from Holman combined for a 3-0 lead that Cal would hold until the Dons’ Kyle Knell’s solo home run in the eighth. Despite leaving 12 runners on base by the end of the day, a two-run buffer heading into the ninth brought victory close enough to taste for the Bears.

But consecutive singles in the top of the frame were enough to kick-start a comeback for USF and tie the game. With the Bears unable to counter, the teams headed to the 10th inning, where Cal saw its good fortune taken away as swiftly as it had come.

A 3 RBI home run from USF’s Darius Foster would have been enough to rob the Bears, but the Dons batted around and were able to go from a stalemate to a 5 run lead and embarrass Cal at home. Two Cal errors allowed singles to line into the outfield, giving the Dons the inch they needed to take a mile and the series as Mike Neu and freshman pitcher Ben Lake were also ejected for contesting close calls during the Bears’ half inning.

“The key is just to stick to the process. Everyone’s doing a good job of continuing to keep the right mindset — our coaches all have kept the right mindset, and they do a good job of communicating that to the players,” Flower said. “Just sticking together and playing for each other, we’ll get out of it soon.”

Cal will get its chance to flip the script Tuesday night against the 5-11 San Jose State Spartans at Evans Diamond. In dire need of a positive result, the contest amounts to much more than just a midweek matchup for the Bears.

Emily Ohman covers baseball. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @emilyohman34.