After getting swept by Stanford in Palo Alto two weeks ago, the Bears rebounded with a commanding sweep of New Mexico in Berkeley last week. Nothing could have taken the sting out of such a lopsided Big Series loss, but winning three straight against the Lobos by a combined score of 42-5 must have helped Cal’s offense take its mind off of its relatively poor outings against the Cardinal.
If nothing else, the New Mexico series presented the Bears with the opportunity to let out some frustration on a team that was nine games below .500 entering the series at Stu Gordon Stadium.
Behind a dominant pitching effort from Cal’s Steven Zobac, the Bears beat the Lobos 11-0 in the first game of the series Friday night. Zobac threw 90 pitches through seven scoreless innings to earn his third win of the season. Four different Bears earned two hits on the night, including standout junior first baseman Nathan Martorella.
Cal offense then unleashed itself Saturday night, tallying a season-high single-game run total in a 23-5 win. If the mercy rule were in effect, the game might have been over after the seventh inning when the Bears scored 9 runs off of five hits and four walks to extend their lead to 21-5.
As part of Cal Baseball’s Bark at the Park day, fans walked their dogs on the field before the game before witnessing another Bears pitching masterclass in an 8-0 win. Thanks to five different Cal pitchers who combined for the shutout on nine strikeouts and just four hits, the Bears earned their first sweep of the season and their first home series sweep since April 2019. Cal also tied its season high for doubles in a single game with six. Dom Souto and Dylan Beavers each had two doubles, while Martorella extended his hitting streak to 15 games with a single in the sixth inning.
Cal’s final regular season series begins today at Stu Gordon Stadium. The Bears will play three games against Utah, a team with an almost identical conference and overall record to Cal’s. The Utes sit just one spot below the Bears in the conference standings, so the winner of the series will earn the final spot in the Pac-12 tournament as the No. 8 seed.
The two programs have had similar years. No. 8 Stanford also swept Utah recently, winning all three games against the Utes in Salt Lake City last week. But unlike Cal, Utah has had trouble stringing more than one win together since late April. Entering the Stanford series, the Utes had lost six straight. The series sweep to Stanford extended Utah’s losing streak to nine straight before earning a long overdue 12-7 win over rival Brigham Young on Tuesday, its first win in the month of May.
Utah will likely start one of its two go-to starting pitchers against Cal on Friday and in at least one of the next two games: redshirt senior right-hander Matthew Sox and freshman right-hander Cam Day. Sox and Day have both appeared in 13 games this season, both starting in all 13. Both have also struggled. Sox (5.33 earned run average) is 4-4 on the season, while Day (6.86 earned run average) has just one win and six losses.
If those two can somehow keep Cal’s gauntlet of hot-hitters at bay, 6’7” freshman wonderkid pitcher Micah Ashman and righthander Zac McCleve might very well put the Bears away. Through 23 appearances this season, Ashman boasts a 2.49 earned run average, the lowest on the team, and McCleve has four saves and the third-best earned run average on the team.
That said, seeing as the Bears have had very little trouble scoring through the majority of the second half of the season and the Utes’ most reliable pitchers are prone to allowing runs, bettors should bet the over in this series.
The three-game series, which will determine whether or not Cal makes the postseason, begins today at 6 p.m. at Evans Diamond in Berkeley.
William Cooke covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected].