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A new king of the jungle: surging Bears take series from Lions

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MARCH 16, 2021

For a second, it looked like the Bears were going to do it again — down one in the ninth, Cal had put two on with no outs for their hottest hitter, Dylan Beavers. The stage was set for another tense finish, and Cal — an early frontrunner for Best in Drama at the College Baseball Oscars — seemed primed to take advantage.

A couple of strikeouts later and the game was over. The Bears had dropped their Friday night game to Loyola Marymount 4-3, failing to secure their fourth walkoff in four weekends.

The loss was made twice as painful given the 11 men Cal left on base as the team hit 1-10 with runners in scoring position. Two of those 11 were stranded in the ninth when the middle of the Cal’s lineup failed to drive them in.

“We just didn’t play well enough to win,” said head coach Mike Neu. “We had some opportunities, but we just didn’t get that hit when we needed it. It was a good game to continue to learn from.”

Not only did the Bears learn from it, but the lineup made quite a statement through the rest of the series.

The Bears would proceed to outscore LMU 24-10 over three wins during the weekend slate, taking the Bears’ third straight series and improving to 10-6 on the season. After losing the opening matchup, the blue and gold didn’t trail the Lions for the rest of the series.

The Bears’ bats picked up the slack during Saturday’s doubleheader, scoring 11 and six runs in two Cal wins. The DB brothers continued to rake, as Beavers and Darren Baker combined to go 8-16 with six runs and four RBIs on the day. Cole Elvis broke out of his slump with a solid two-hit, three-RBI performance in the first game of the day.

Thanks to the offensive outburst and six innings of two-run ball from starter Sean Sullivan, the Bears cruised to a 11-5 victory in game two.

“We took the feedback we got from the first game and were able to make the adjustments,” Neu said. “To our team’s credit, I thought we played three really good games.”

Game three, on the other hand, caused the Cal coaching staff a little more stress. After Nathan Martorella drove in three on a bases-loaded double, the Lions chipped away at the blue and gold’s lead, eventually coming within two. Redshirt freshman Aaron Roberts and sophomore Steven Zobac, who started the game in right field, shut the door on LMU’s comeback, sealing Cal’s 6-4 win with their stellar relief pitching. Zobac also hit a home run and drove in two in the series.

“You have eight innings on your body and arm and to be able to switch that mentally from an outfielder’s/hitter’s perspective to on the mound is pretty tough,” Zobac said. “The coaches and the team have prepared me for it and it’s a lot of fun doing it.”

Zobac and Roberts are just a couple of the handful of young pitchers who are producing at a high level for Neu and his coaching staff. Josh White, another outstanding sophomore, lowered his ERA to 1.77 during a winning performance in game three and boasts a 29:5 strikeout to walk ratio in 20 ⅓ innings.

However, no pitching performance was as impressive as freshman Palshawn Pasqualotto’s game four gem, as the right-hander tossed 8 ⅓ dominant innings, giving up just one run on four hits and striking out three. Through eight innings, he had faced just 25 batters.

“To come back today and win the series with a lights-out pitching performance, that was a great way to finish the weekend,” Neu said. “We know what he is capable of doing and that was a great performance.”

Pasqualotto’s performance caps off another masterful showing from Cal’s staff, which owns a team ERA of 3.42 and a batting average against, or BAA, of .236.

The squad received another big boost in the return of Freshman All-American Joseph King, who struck out three in his scoreless inning of work in his season debut. The sophomore is a welcome addition to an already loaded bullpen and will see lots of innings in crucial situations once he is fully healthy.

“He brings a lot to the table, not just from his stuff, which is really good, but as a great competitor,” Neu said. “You can never have too much pitching.”

Preseason All-American Grant Holman is also on the mend and should see his first time on the mound sometime during next week’s series. With King and Holman coming back, the Bears truly have an embarrassment of riches in their bullpen — a good problem to have.

Cal’s injured pitchers are coming back at just the right time, as the Bears will wrap up their nonconference slate next week when they host Cal Baptist in a three-game set starting Friday. Winners of their last eight matches, Cal Baptist (10-4) will be a good final test before the Bears set their sights on a high conference finish.

The Lancers will rely on their solid starting pitching during the series, as their three weekend starters all boast a mid-three ERA. Chris Burica has been the team’s ace thus far, posting a 2-1 record, 3.46 ERA and .176 BAA in his four starts.

The Bears feel comfortable in a pitcher’s duel, however, and believe that their guys can outcompete anyone on any night. With some quality time together and some games under its belt, the team is starting to gel and get hot at just the right time.

“Whenever we are on the field, we know that we didn’t have a lot of time to get to know each together and in a weird way that gelled us closer,” Zobac said. “16 games in, I feel we are a very tight knit group.”

The Bears only figure to get better and better as the season progresses, giving hope of another strong Pac-12 season and postseason appearance in 2021.

Noah Parker covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected]
LAST UPDATED

MARCH 16, 2021


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