The Trojan War is a tale familiar to many, and rightly so — since its commencement in the 12th century B.C., it’s been retold for its extraordinary turmoil. But what is often overlooked in favor of its dramatic, horse-clad conclusion is the city of Troy’s ability to stave off a complete Greek siege for 10 years, especially impressive considering the Spartans were the strongest army in the world at the time.
The Trojans started strong but finished weak, and the same held true centuries later at Evans Diamond last weekend.
After a decisive 1-6 loss to USC in the series’ opener, Cal bounced back, winning game two and stealing the rubber match to snag its sixth straight series win on the year. The Bears padded their winning conference record with a confident offensive performance backed by an unflappable effort on the mound, marking the first time they’ve opened a season with back-to-back conference series wins since 2015.
“Winning a Pac-12 series, especially against USC who’s a great program and a very good team — that’s big,” said Cal head coach Mike Neu.
Before the matchup, the Bears were fresh off a midweek loss to San Jose State. Although the blue and gold put up a noble fight in the 7-10 loss to the Spartans, their first game against the Trojans was all too opposite; the Bears’ bats weren’t rolling, and they couldn’t strike a rhythm despite decent closing pitching out of the bullpen.
On Friday in Berkeley, however, Cal hit its offensive stride, plating two runs in the first inning thanks to senior Quentin Selma’s fifth homerun of the season. Grant Holman, a stalwart in the Bears’ bullpen, notched six strikeouts in just more than four innings of work, in what was only his second start of the year. The junior topped out at 97 mph against USC.
“He did a great job — he was pretty dominant in that outing and gave us some energy, gave us a good start,” Neu said. “We just felt like we were in a great position when he came out of the game, and that’s what you want out of your starter.”
A late comeback by the Trojans to tie the game 3-3 put Cal in hot water, but righty Joseph King worked out of a jam to put the evening’s fate in the hitters’ hands. In nothing short of an uncanny achievement, sophomore Dylan Beavers’ ninth-inning single, which lifted the Bears to a last-minute 4-3 victory, marked his second consecutive walk-off hit of the season.
“It’s always a great help when you have 1-9 who’s a threat,” Selma said. “We’ve done such a great job of picking each other up the entire year — I mean, we have 5 walk-off wins so far, so obviously, everybody’s just pulling, hitting the same direction. It’s not just one person doing anything now, it’s really a full team effort.”
Cal’s offense was firing right off the bat in Saturday’s series-deciding game; a single by Selma and a sacrifice line out from senior John Lagattuta brought two runners home before the end of the first inning. Just two frames later, Selma sent another ball to the track, putting the blue and gold up by five.
“My teammates did a great job all weekend putting me in those situations to get up in those spots, and then it’s pretty much about getting a good approach, just putting a good swing on it, and good things happened,” Selma said.
USC mustered only one run in the ninth inning, and a phenomenal Cal bullpen performance guided the Bears to both a 5-1 win and a clinched series.
“It’s a big confidence boost — it shows that all the hard work we’ve put in pretty much comes to fruition,” Selma said. “Any win that you can get in the [Pac-12] is gold — it’s awesome.”
Although the Trojans were arguably the Bears’ first true test in gauging its level of conference contention, the war is far from over. Cal is slated to take on rival Stanford in a midweek matchup followed by a series against No. 22 Arizona. The Cardinal share the same 4-2 conference record as the Bears, and the Wildcats sit at 18-8 overall.
“We have a long way to go, and we really have to focus on just playing the game one pitch at a time and controlling what we can control,” Neu said. “But there’s no question when you look back and win a series like that, it’s very big.”
Cal heads across the Bay to face Stanford on Tuesday evening. Last year the Bears earned an 8-4 win in their single game against the Cardinal, and if history repeats itself — which ancient history has so far — Cal should secure another crucial win under its belt.