Late-Inning Comeback Falls Short

Andrew Knapp. (Joni Krist/FILE)

Despite banging out nine hits and five runs against Stanford ace Mark Appel, Cal can't overcome miscues and drops series opener, 9-8, to rival Cardinal.

BERKELEY -- California head coach David Esquer has not stewed in the corner of his dugout after a game in quite some time. After Friday night's 9-8 loss to rival Stanford, the Bears skipper sat, gnawing on his gum, letting his players stand in right field and reflect on an evening where they battered Cardinal ace and former first-round draft pick Mark Appel for five runs on nine hits -- the most base knocks he'd given up all season -- and still lost.

"No excuse," said Cal head coach David Esquer. "No excuse, whatsoever, to not beat them at that time ... When you offense against their Friday-night guy like we did, you need to win that game."

Appel (9-4) fell one strikeout short of breaking the Stanford career K record, tying the 363-whiff mark held by Justin Wayne (1998-2000) and Kyle Peterson (1995-1997) with 11 strikeouts on the evening.

Cal (22-29, 10-18 in the Pac-12) mounted two three-run rallies against the Cardinal (27-21, 12-13), including one in the bottom of the ninth, but with the tying run at third and one out, Brian Celsi struck out swinging on a Garrett Hughes slider in the dirt and Devin Pearson popped out to short right on an 0-1 count, stranding Chris Paul at third.

"It's difficult," Esquer said. "It's just not good enough there, at the end. That's what makes it hard."

In the starkest terms he's used all season, Esquer said that not only was this a game the Bears should have won, but that, with a top recruiting class providing reinforcements next season and the lumps the current crop of freshman have taken in 2013, he won't tolerate such a defeat.

"We're going to win this game in the future," Esquer said. "You will see the biggest program turnaround in my 14 years, because we're probably as bad as I've been in 14 years. I will get this program back to where it belongs, back to where we have been before. There's going to be a 180."

Junior catcher Andrew Knapp led the charge on offense, going 2-for-4 with a leadoff double in the bottom of the fourth to key a three-run inning and a home run to break a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the fifth, but committed a crucial error behind the plate that led to two Stanford runs in the top of the ninth.

After Bears reliever Eric Walbridge gave up a single and a walk to lead off the top of the ninth, the sophomore righty got behind second baseman Danny Diekroeger 2-0, before Diekroeger fouled off three pitches, prompting pitching coach Mike Neu to call in freshman Jake Schulz. Schulz got Diekroeger swinging at strike three with the runners in motion, and Knapp popped up and threw far to the right of the second base bag, trying to get the trailing runner. Second baseman Brenden Farney broke late and saw the ball bounce off Austin Wilson and into center, allowing Brian Ragira to score and putting Wilson at third.

"It was kind of a play where I figured I had a better chance throwing him out at second than I did at third," Knapp said. "There was a mix-up between Farney and CP on who was going to cover. I probably should have thrown to third or just not even thrown it."

Wilson then scored on a line-drive single past a drawn-in Paul at short to stretch the Stanford lead to 9-5.

"It was inexcusable," Esquer said of Knapp's throw. "Inexcusable. Bad play. Bad baseball play. It's not a good baseball play. Very shocking and surprising to throw that direction. We don't even have a sign that we're going to throw to the back runner. They're not trying to steal the base. They're just starting the runner up. They're just trying to get started and stay out of a double play on a batted ball, not necessarily to steal the base. We've been two steps forward and a step back all year long, and that's too bad."

Cal battled back in the bottom of the frame, with a leadoff worm-burner single up the middle by designated hitter Devon Rodriguez and a roller up the middle off the bat of freshman third baseman Mitchell Kranson kicking between Diekroeger's legs behind the bag to put men at first and third.

A four-pitch walk to freshman first baseman Nick Halamandaris loaded the bases for right fielder Jacob Wark, who had driven in two runs to tie the game at 3-3 with one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the fourth.

Hughes's third pitch to Wark missed low and away, and catcher Brant Whiting saw the ball glance off his mitt and shoot all the way to the backstop for a run-scoring passed ball. Wark then grounded out to second to plate the Bears' eighth run of the game and move the tying run to third, before Celsi and Pearson went down to end the game.

Cal only got 4.0 innings from freshman starter Ryan Mason, who was pulled after just 53 pitches, allowing three earned runs on seven hits, including two home runs.

"I think he's on fumes," Esquer said of his freshman righty, who has now thrown 69.1 innings, more than he threw in any season at Auburn (Calif.) Placer. "I don't think he's pitching well at all. They were squaring him up and they must have hit eight or nine line drives in the first five innings."

After senior reliever Logan Scott got out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the fifth, courtesy of a 7-2 double play that saw Celsi gun down Justin Ringo at the plate after hauling in a fly ball by Diekroeger, he proceeded to give up two runs on three hits in the top of the sixth, both scoring on a double down the left field line by junior shortstop Lonnie Kauppila, putting the Bears down, 5-4.

Reliever Keaton Siomkin allowed a one-out walk and a single in the top of the seventh, before surrendering a sacrifice fly by Whiting to push the Stanford lead to 6-4, before Cal got a run back in the bottom of the frame, thanks to a sacrifice fly by Kranson to score Knapp, who took third on a Rodriguez single after taking a dose on the second pitch he saw from Appel to lead off the inning.

The Cardinal extended their lead to 7-5 in the top of the eighth on a solo home run off the bat of sophomore left fielder Wayne Taylor -- his second circuit shot of the game. Taylor finished the day 3-for-5 with three runs and three RBIs to pace a 15-hit Stanford attack.

"You don't want to give them too many outs," Esquer said of his beleaguered bullpen. "Normally, it's the hitting that's behind when you come out of finals. Our pitching seemed to come out of finals behind. You don't want to make an excuse for them. They're baseball players. That's their time to rest, athletically."

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