Speed dating is a lot like baseball. You meet a new person or team and very quickly have to decide how the night will unfold. Whether you’re in the middle of a dry spell, decide you’d rather never see them again but swing for the fences anyway or actually get along, you inevitably have to decide who’s on top.
In last weekend’s series against the TCU Horned Frogs, the Bears bottomed out and were swept despite strong showings on the mound. Cal was similarly blanked 5-0 in its midweek match against No. 10 Michigan, a 2019 College World Series finalist, when a 3-run first inning for the Wolverines put the Bears in a hole they couldn’t crawl out of.
“One of two is kind of like, ‘All right, it’s the first,’ but three is kind of a punch in the face,” said Cal second baseman Darren Baker of the Bears’ first inning falter.
Pitching inconsistencies and injuries have proven difficult for Cal to overcome, but scant offensive production has been the team’s coup de grâce more than anything this season.
The Bears’ next opponent, however, might provide the best chance they’ve had in weeks to get lucky.
Cal will take on the University of San Francisco Dons, a consistent and well-rounded team from across the Bay with striking similarities to the Bears. With a 6-7 record and six players, some of who aren’t starters, batting .300 or above, USF poses a clear threat at the plate but is not quite the caliber of heavy-hitting squads like previous Cal opponents Michigan or TCU.
Even so, the Bears have reason to be wary of the Dons, as upperclassmen Nick Yovetich, Tyler Villaroman and Robert Emery have combined for 56 hits this season, whereas Cal’s top-three players have only 42 between them. In the same vein, seven Dons have 10 or more hits, while only the same three Bears — Baker, Quentin Selma and Grant Holman — have double-digit hits.
Yovetich has notched two dingers and triples and is slugging an impressive .615 over 13 games, but despite his status as the leader of the pack, the senior is trailed closely by a large portion of the Dons roster. The offensive depth held by USF was certainly integral to its convincing wins over Mount St. Mary’s this week in which it totaled 14 hits, but the Dons’ brawn on the mound is the reason why the Mountaineers were held to just two runs over the series.
Righty Nick Roth posted four scoreless innings and strikeouts in the Dons’ final game against Mount St. Mary’s; uncannily, he and fellow right-handed pitcher Landen Bourassa each have a 2.25 ERA and have given up five hits and two earned runs in eight innings of work this season. Matthew McConnell and Grant Young of the Dons combined for just more than three innings without a hit in the same game, and the USF bullpen kept the Mountaineers scoreless for 11 and a third consecutive frames.
Though the Bears may not have produced as much offensively this year, their own depth on the hill and at the dish will help keep them competitive with the Dons. The stat sheets might not show it, but the Bears have a wealth of talent in the bullpen that has prevented utter disasters against the powerhouse teams that Cal has faced this season. With previously injured righty Sean Sullivan steadily regaining strength, the blue and gold should have to staff games less frequently.
“Going into the series, we’re excited about our pitching and our defense really continuing to improve,”said Cal head coach Mike Neu. “I think that’s going to, hopefully, be the strength of our team as we move forward. And then we’re going to need our offense to pick us up.”
Additionally, the stiff competition that Cal faced early on this spring may not have produced the winningest record for the Bears, but it has provided experience and knowledge that can only come from empirical time on the field. USF has yet to confront a ranked team this season, whereas the Bears have already faced three.
“Things just aren’t going our way right now, but if you keep the right approach, it’ll pan out,” Baker commented.
The Bears have a three-game series split between Evans Diamond in Berkeley and USF’s Benedetti Diamond to work on purging their growing pains and fixing small errors, and whether or not they make it home with the Dons is soon to be determined.
Emily Ohman covers baseball. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @emilyohman34.