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Hitting a dozen homers, Cal Baseball earned a much-needed sweep at UCLA
Golden Bears will need to follow up by beating Washington State at home this weekend
In their last series at UCLA’s Jackie Robinson Stadium as conference foes, California Golden Bears (21-23, 9-15 in Pac-12) got a much-needed sweep last weekend. With all three Pac-12 wins, Cal ascended from the cellar (11th place in the Pac-121) to a tie for 8th with Arizona. Since only the top-9 teams will qualify for the second year of the Pac-12 Baseball Tournament (with a new format from last year), Cal needed a late surge to even have a chance to play for the conference’s automatic bid.
“We obviously knew the situation that we are in, where we have to win as many conference games as possible to get into the [Pac-12] tournament and give ourselves a chance.” Cal head coach Mike Neu said, after the series sweep last Sunday, “Our guys understood that and stepped up. That’s a great way to start our ‘new season’’ that we have now to get into the [NCAA] tournament.”
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With the three road wins at UCLA, Cal’s RPI jumped from 98 to 75, still not quite good enough for the NCAA bubble conversation. Cal’s best (possibly only) shot at a return trip to the postseason is that automatic bid. Golden Bears can clinch a Pac-12 Baseball Tournament berth with a sweep of Washington State this weekend in Berkeley. This is Cal’s penultimate Pac-12 series in the regular season.
Looking at the Pac-12 Baseball Standings, Cal is tied with Arizona with the same 9-15 conference record. The two schools, occupying the last two Pac-12 tournament berths, are just ahead of Washington State at 8-15. Utah is in last place at 8-18-1.
Golden Bears will close the regular season next weekend up in Seattle at Washington (29-14, 13-10 in Pac-12). The ideal thing is to take care of business this weekend and not have to win that road series to continue the season.
The 2023 Pac-12 Baseball Tournament will see teams divided into three pools of three. Each pool will play a round robin with the three pool winners and one Wild Card making the semifinal. Each of the qualified teams is a mere 4-game winning streak away from earning the automatic bid.
Back to last weekend in Westwood (where yours truly had the pleasure to take in all three wins in person), Cal trailed only for a brief half-an-inning in the entire three-game series and was only tied for two innings.
Golden Bears hit four homers in each of the three games. “It’s time for the Bears to start having fun again,” sophomore catcher Caleb Lomavita said, “It’s been a while, but we have finally found it as a team again [this series].”
UCLA (25-19-1, 10-12-1 in Pac-12) came into the series on a bit of a losing streak. They also found out that they have lost their ace (and second-highest projected draftee this summer behind 3B Kyle, son of Eric, Karros), RHP Alonzo Tredwell, for the rest of the season.
Friday: Cal 10, UCLA 7
Cal got homers from:
SS Carson Crowford,
3B Max Handron,
CF Rodney Green Jr. x 2
After taking a hard liner off his glove/body to the first batter for an infield hit, Cal starter Christian Becerra retired 12 batters in a row. Even after that streak was snapped, Becerra and the Bears were ahead 8-0 going to B5.
UCLA arguably left their starter Jake Brooks in for too long, he gave up 8 runs (7 earned) in 4.1 IP. Cal arguably made the same mistake in B6 when Becerra was left in the game to give up a grand slam to UCLA’s 1B Jack Holman (who will hit a homer in each of the three games against Cal’s barrage).
Tyler Stasiowski had to come in in B6 to put out the fire with Cal ahead only 8-6 at that point. Bears were able to add a couple of insurance runs, helped by a swinging bunt that kept just fair to move up the runners. Stasiaowski pitched the final 3.2 IP to earn the save. UCLA got the tying run at the plate in B9, but the final batter pulled a hard-hit ball down the line just foul before ending the game.
Saturday: Cal 9, UCLA 2
Golden Bears again struck early (2nd inning) with the long ball. Kretschmar went deep before two RBI doubles to make it 3-0 Cal.
UCLA got two runs, including another homer from Holman, to make it 4-2 Cal after 8. Golden Bears used some 9th-inning dingers to put the game away.
On the mound, Cal again relied on just two pitchers. Paulshawn Psqualotto went 5 scoreless innings before Andres Galan finished the game by tossing the final 4 innings.
Outside of the stumble where he gave up some hard-hit balls (and 3 runs) in the 2nd, UCLA’s Kelly Austin had an overall solid showing of allowing 4 runs in 7.1 IP.
Sunday: Cal 9, UCLA 8
It is tough to sweep any team, Cal was able to just hold on to finish the sweep. Chris Stamos acted as the opener ahead of Connor Sullivan as the bulk pitcher.
Cal’s first homer was in the 5th, when Rodney Green Jr (wearing 42 this series, rather than his listed 24, in honor of Jackie Robinson) went deep for the 3rd time.
This came on the heel of his great defensive play via a strong throw to second for a double play. Green got the runner on 2nd before the tying run could score.
Cal’s nemesis in UCLA’s Jack Holman hit a 3-run bomb in B5 against his former teammate (graduate transfer to Cal) Daniel Colwell to give the Bruins a 5-4 lead after 5, but Cal answered right back in T6.
Max Handron ties Green Jr with a 3rd homer in this series.
Caleb Lomavita made it back-to-back dingers for the Bears. He kept the ball just fair and had an emphatic bat flip.
Handron added a 2-run shot in T8 to make it 9-5 Cal.
Cal got some nice innings from freshmen Austin Turkington and Robert Aivazian but Aivazian left B9 with the UCLA in a serious rally. Tucker Bougie came in and had some control issues.
Mike Neu went on the mound and said, “ ‘Hey what pitch can we throw right here? Let's kind of reset and throw a pitch that we can get a double play ball.’ Thankfully, [Bougie] found his slider. He threw a decent amount of sliders to the last three hitters.” While UCLA got a seeing-eye single to cut the Cal lead to just one, Tucker Bougie got his 3rd save of the season to preserve the much-needed win.
Moved to the top of the Cal order late in the season, 3B Max Handron was the Best Bear for this series.
In a season that saw Cal lose too many heartbreakers on the last ABs, particularly to rival Stanford who is also the highest-ranked team in the Pac-12 nationally at No.14 via the RPI, Golden Bears had everything go just right last weekend. Cal pitching did just enough to induce the long fly balls to the warning track at key moments rather than back-breaking three-run bombs. Maybe Cal can go on a hot streak to make an improbable postseason run. Because baseball is a “game of inches”, when things go just right for three games, it feels like destiny.
Destiny is all.
ROLL ON YOU BEARS!
Colorado does not have a baseball program