Well that was an adventure. The California Golden Bears (10-2) blitzed Nebraska (8-5) out of the gate, leading 7-0 through three innings. The Big Red didn't give up, riding four runs in the 5th inning, two in the 8th and two in the 9th to tie the game at 8-8 sending the battle into extra innings. After a scoreless 10th, the Bears dinged NU closer Travis Huber for a three run 11th, giving Cal their margin of victory, 11-8.
I have to say I really enjoyed this one. The weather was spectacular and the game was wild. I got to sit at a picnic table with two very entertaining gentlemen, both of whom had some insightful things to say about the game and the direction of the program. One of the more sobering remarks that I think was both accurate and deserving of being repeated here is that the move to the Big Ten is not good for the long term prospects of Husker baseball. We have by every measure the best facilities and best supported baseball program in the Big Ten and we should do well in that respect, but that's about it. Our move effectively shuts us off from a regular top tier competition which seriously hurts our ability to bring in top tier players. To an extent, I think we saw the effects of a talent gap today at Hawks Field. By and large, I felt the Huskers played well today, played with poise, and frankly played with better overall fundamentals than Cal did. But it was Cal that made the spectacular plays, it was Cal that had that extra step that allowed them to beat out a throw to first, or to keep a ground ball from escaping to the outfield. It was those special plays of athleticism that made Cal the better team today.
On to the recap:In what would be a common theme all game, California started the game having no trouble getting wood on Nebraska starter Zach Hirsch's pitches. Cal got three different men on base in the 1st inning, plating one on a Andrew Knapp hit. Similarly, Cal recorded two base hits in the 2nd inning, first a Mitch Delfino double, then a Derek Campbell single which sent Delfino home for a 2-0 Cal lead. Meanwhile, Nebraska's hitters struggled against the Bears' SP Justin Jones. The Huskers got just one hit and no runs through the first two innings of action. The first major turn of the game when Hirsch learned an important lesson: simply throwing strikes doesn't cut it against a top tier opponent. With just one man on and two outs, Hirsch threw a waist high fastball straight down the plate against Knapp, who sent it to the outfield for a double. Next up was Chad Bunting, who sent a similar pitch over the left field wall. No one can say for sure what happened, but Cal seemed to have a radar lock on Hirsch's pitches from there on out as Delfino, Devon Rodriquez, and Campbell homered, doubled, and singled respectively. To his credit, Hirsch finished the inning, striking out Darrel Matthews, but not before Cal had stunned the Huskers with 5 runs in the inning.
After Nebraska went down in order in the 3rd, Erstad sent Jeff Stovall in to replace Hirsch. This was a gutsy move considering that the situation was already rather out of hand and that Stovall had...uhhhhhh struggled so far this year. (For those of you too lazy to click on the link, his ERA coming into today was 20.25). I'll take this opportunity to commend Stovall for doing a phenomenal job today, holding Cal to just one run and three hits in nearly three innings of service. Erstad also deserves credit for showing confidence in his embattled pitcher. While Stovall was doing his thing in the top of the inning, the Husker batters went to work in the bottom of the 5th. After not really coming close to scoring through four on Cal starter Jones, they got to him in a big way in the 5th. Sam Stucky and Kale Kiser drew walks sandwiched around a Bryan Peters RBI single. Chad Christensen got into the action with a big two out two RBI double. Kash Kalkowski followed by driving Christensen home with a single. Josh Scheffert and Kurt Farmer also managed to get on base. Unfortunately, an Austin Darby strikeout would end the inning with the bases loaded for the Huskers. Nevertheless, Nebraska was back in the game, having cut the Cal lead to 7-4.
Cal answered in the top of the sixth with a Tony Renda RBI double, extending the Bear lead to 8-4. Each team had a fruitless at bat, sending the game into the bottom of the 8th. There the Husker batters would get after Cal reliever Keaton Siomkin, netting three base hits and two runs. Cal managed to get runners on first and second with one out in the top of the 9th, but the Huskers escaped when Danny Oh grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning. The bottom of the 9th would be little better for Cal's bullpen, as a huge two out Rich Stock single sent the tying runs home for Nebraska. Kale Kiser would be hit by a pitch, putting men on first and second with two outs for Rich Sanguinetti. The Huskers game inches from victory as back to back hits by Sanguinetti hits into right field went just foul before Sanguinetti ultimately grounded out. NU and Cal relievers Travis Huber and Logan Scott made it through the 10th inning without a major scare. In the top of the 11th, however, Huber ran into trouble, as Cal loaded the bases with no outs. After a force out at home, a Chris Paul single brought in two Cal runs. A passed ball against the next batter brought in the third and final Cal run. Nebraska managed to get the tying run up to bat in the bottom half of the inning, but couldn't capitalize, ultimately falling 11-8.
W: Logan Scott, Cal (3-0)
L: Travis Huber, NU (0-1)
15/10: The number of men NU and Cal left on base today. This game could've easily looked much different going either way.
.553: Cal's on base percentage, presented without further comment.
-Nebraska showed excellent resolve in bouncing back from what is normally thought of as being an insurmountable deficit.
-Once the NU hitters got to Cal starter Justin Jones, they had a field day with the Bears' relievers.
-Lots of good, fundamentally sound defense out there today. Another opposing stealing runner gunned down from behind home plate.
-The pitching of Stovall: I don't want to over do it, but the guy has really struggled this year, and he pitched 3 really good innings at a time when Nebraska needed them badly.
Pitching: I understand this is a young staff. I think they will improve. I understand Cal being a big step up in competition. That's all well and good, but 11 runs, 20 hits, 3 hit batters, the aforementioned on base percentage....the only word to describe today for our pitching staff as a whole is disaster.
Luke Bublitz' errant pitch: For those who aren't aware, in the top of the ninth, one of Bublitz' pitches hit Cal batter Mitch Delfino in the face, likely ending his weekend. I'm hoping that it was purely an accident, but Bublitz was immediately removed from the game, whether it was by Erstad or the umpires, I could not tell. In any case, it was an ugly moment and our best wishes go out to Delfino as he recovers.
What did today's game mean? Was Cal's initial surge due to the Huskers being intimidated or otherwise caught flatfooted? Was the Huskers' surge a result of NU regaining its composure, or Cal relaxing with a big lead?
Player of the Game:
Tony Renda, 2B, Cal. He's a pre-season first team All American and it was easy to see why today. He did some damage from the plate, getting on base three times and batting in a run, but the real damage came with his glove. He tracked down sure base hits into shallow right field and gunned down multiple Huskers before they could get to first. He also made a ridiculous play on a laser shot to what would've been shallow center field, snagging the red hot line drive and turning the double play by throwing a Husker runner out at second. I don't think its an exaggeration to say he may have single handedly taken three Husker runs off the board.
Nebraska falls to 8-5 on the year and will play Cal again tomorrow at Haymarket Park. First pitch goes out at 2:05.
PS: Sorry about the delay, I was at work until 9 tonight.