BERKELEY -- The California baseball team came back from a two-run deficit to tie visiting USC on Thursday in the program’s first ever night game at Evans Diamond, but the Trojans were not about to give up the opportunity to spoil the Bears’ big night, notching three hits and one run in the top of the ninth off of junior righty Trevor Hildenberger to come away with a 4-3 win in front of a standing-room-only crowd of 2,133.
“They did a nice job,” said head coach David Esquer. “Give them credit, coming on the road, giving up the lead and then getting three hits off of basically, our closer. That’s tough to do. I’d like to see my club do that on the road sometimes. That showed a lot. They just played a better ballgame than we did, today. We could have pulled it out, and if we get a big hit with the bases loaded, we probably could have pulled that game out, but when it’s all said and done, they played better.”
A swinging bunt up the third-base line with two outs in the ninth off the bat of Adam Landecker cost Cal (15-11, 4-3 in the Pac-12) to drop a game at home for the first time this season after a 7-0 start. Landecker was one of three Trojans with multiple hits, as the first five hitters in the USC lineup went a combined 7-for-21. On a night when the eight new light standards shone brightly, the middle of the Bears’ order went dark, as the three-four-five hitters went a combined 2-for-12, stranding three runners on base.
Freshman righty Ryan Mason -- who had his father, grandmother and former high school teammate Eddie Vanderdoes in the stands to support him -- was far from his usually unflappable self, struggling to find his control in the top of the first and allowing one run on a leadoff double up the third base line, a passed ball and an RBI groundout to short before facing the minimum over the next three innings.
“I just wasn't quite there today,” Mason said. “I wasn’t commanding the plate like I usually do, I wasn’t at the knees, didn’t have good sink. I was trying to press a little hard this entire game. Big crowd tonight, under the lights for the first game, just trying to do too much, I guess. That’s not me. Usually, I’m relaxed, laid back, pretty animated on the mound, and tonight, I just wasn’t there.”
Mason got the no-decision against the Trojans (10-15, 3-4), scattering six hits and one walk over 7.0 innings, with six strikeouts and three runs given up -- two earned.
Mason uncorked one wild pitch and hit three batters, allowing a leadoff home run to A.J. Ramirez in the top of the fifth, and allowing Landecker to move up an extra 90 feet on a wild pitch to shortstop Blake Lacey before scoring after a groundout and a soft single up the middle from third baseman James Roberts.
“They moved up on two wild pitches, and the more we can minimize -- that 90 feet is a big deal -- that keyed both of their first two runs,” Esquer said. “They got a two-out base hit after moving 90 feet on a wild pitch and they scored on a groundball after moving up 90 feet on a wild pitch. We pride ourselves on taking that 90 feet, and they kind of out-Beared the Bears today.”
The Bears offense managed just seven hits on the evening, led by a 2-for-4 night from freshman center fielder Devin Pearson, but stranded eight men on base as junior lefty Bob Wheatley spun a 7.0-inning, four-hit, three-strikeout, one-walk one-run outing, throwing 95 pitches.
Once Wheatley left the game, Cal began to roll. With one out and down 3-1 in the bottom of the eighth, Bears shortstop Mike Reuvekamp sent the fourth pitch he saw from reliever Sean Adler bounding to the hole at short, and beat a long throw from Lacey. Senior first baseman Devon Rodriguez then sent a bounding single through the right side to put two on with one out, and was promptly followed by a slow roller through the left side by catcher Andrew Knapp to bring Reuvekamp around to score.
A tapper to the mound by junior right fielder Jacob Wark moved two men into scoring position for struggling Chris Paul, who was sitting on an 0-for-3, two-strikeout day. USC head coach – and former Bears pitching coach -- Dan Hubbs elected to deal four wide to Paul, loading the bases for freshman Nick Halamandaris.
Despite coming into the game with a .143 batting average, the former eighth-round draft pick by the Seattle Mariners watched as Adler dealt four pitches low and outside, walking Halamandaris and forcing in a run to tie the game.
Adler was then pulled for Kyle Davis to face sophomore second baseman Brenden Farney, who had led off the bottom of the third with a single and then came around to tie the game at 1-1 thanks to a slash single to left by Brian Celsi and a hard chopper to short by Reuvekamp.
In the eighth, though, Farney took three straight pitches, watching a fastball over the outside corner and a curve dip in at the letters to get behind 1-2. Farney caught a break when a big curveball from Davis that looked to be a called strike three was instead called a ball by home plate ump Adam Dowdy, but then swung and missed at a slider in the dirt on the next pitch to end the inning.
In the top of the ninth, Hildenberger – who was lit up last weekend at then-No. 11 UCLA to the tune of five runs on five hits in 1.1 innings of work – gave up a slow chopper back up the middle with one out to Vahn Bozoian and then a two-out line-drive single to center off the bat of Greg Zebrack to put runners at the corners.
After getting ahead 1-2 to Landecker, Hildenberger delivered a put-away slider, but the .312-hitting second baseman sent a swinging bunt spinning up the third base line, with freshman left fielder Timmy Robinson -- aboard on a one-out fielder’s choice that erased Bozoian’s pinch runner Connor Sullivan -- breaking for home. Just as Hildenberger was able to corral the slow roller at the line, Robinson crossed home plate, as USC took the lead for good.
Davis then worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his second win of the year.
“When it’s all said and done, they got three hits off our closer, and that’s how you win,” Esquer said.
The Bears and Trojans go at it again under the lights on Friday night, as senior lefty Justin Jones (1-2, 3.94 ERA) takes on sophomore righty Wyatt Strahan, who has gone 0-1 in five starts with a 1.76 ERA, striking out 19 and allowing 18 walks while opposing hitters bat .241 against him. He leads the USC staff with five hit batters.
Faces in the Crowd
A whole host of former players and Cal Baseball Foundation members were in attendance for the first night game, including several familiar faces from the 2011 College World Series team. Among them, 2011 MVP Kevin Miller in his College World Series jersey, Stephen Pistoresi, Chad Bunting, Dwight Tanaka and Paul Toboni. Former Cal tight end Anthony Miller was also in the house, as was signee Aaron Knapp and his father -- former Bears catcher Mike Knapp. 2011 Pac-10 Player of the Year Tony Renda's mother Laree threw out a first pitch, and athletic director Sandy Barbour was behind the dish to receive one of the four first pitches.