SAN DIEGO–I’ve been fortunate this weekend to see six regional-caliber clubs in action, and I’ve been very impressed with various aspects of all six. This weekend has really been about pitching, as all six teams have quality staffs and there have been legitimate power arms on display every day. I think all six are solid offensively as well, but no club out here at the USD Tournament has squared up more balls than California.
Since putting up 14 runs against Fresno State on Thursday, the Golden Bears have been held to five runs each of the last two days, but it’s clear this will be a very good offense. It’s no secret that first baseman David Cooper is one of the nation’s best hitters, a tough out with impressive power to all fields, but he’s got plenty of help in that Cal lineup. Sophomore third baseman Jeff Kobernus is a great-looking hitter who has smoked line drives all over the field this weekend; he went 2-for-4 in Cal’s 5-3 win against San Diego State on Saturday night and is now 8-for-15 on the weekend. Even his outs are hard–he crushed a line drive right at SDSU left fielder Brandon Decker in the fourth inning tonight. Catcher Dylan Tonneson tattooed three hits, and Brett Jackson hit the ball hard as well, though he only had one hit to show for it (a screaming line drive that nearly took Aztec starter J.R. Murphy’s head off in the fifth).
"I think we can get better, I really do," Cal coach Dave Esquer said. "I think we prepared ourselves to come out and start quickly. We worked hard so that early-season velocity and the breaking ball would not just dominate us, and I think we’re at that point, but even beyond that, we still have that room where when the weather heats up we should be even better."
Then there’s senior second baseman Josh Satin, who has struggled the last two years to duplicate the success of his freshman year, when he hit .348/.420/.493. Today Satin provided the big blow for the Bears, launching a three-run missile over the left-field wall that turned a 3-2 deficit into a 5-3 lead in the seventh. He had a chance to break the game open with the bases loaded in the eighth, but he struck out on a pitch off the outside corner.
"He’s been around, so he’s mature for us, and we really need someone who can pick up those at-bats after people decide to walk Cooper, or Cooper gets a base hit and creates an inning for us," Esquer said. "So that’s an important spot, and he’s done a good job for us. I think he can relax a little more in those at-bats, I think he gets a little fired up after that last at-bat, when he chased a ball out of the zone wanting to do it even more, with the bases loaded. But he’s a steady infielder, and not many people have their second basemen hitting fourth."
San Diego State’s own potent offense was neutralized for the second straight day by junior lefthander Craig Bennigson, who allowed just three runs on four hits over eight innings. Bennigson caught the eyes of scouts last summer in the Cape Cod League, and Saturday he mixed three pitches effectively. He threw an 88-91 mph fastball from a three-quarters arm slot and got outs with his changeup and slider, both in the 78-81 range.
"He was excellent, he had everything going," Esquer said. "He created outs on all three of those pitches today, which was good for him. He can keep you off balance, and he can work inside out of the plate.We’ve seen that out of him, it’s been building year by year, he’s been getting better and better, and we knew that this year he had the stuff to even improve a little more. Last year he had three great outings at the end of the year–he beat Arizona State, he beat UCLA. Now this year, he’s even just a little bit better, so we’re looking for a big year from him."
Junior closer Matt Gorgen worked a quiet ninth, allowing a leadoff single to Garrett Green but erasing him one pitch later by getting Cory Vaughn to hit into a 6-4-3 double play on an 82 mph cutter. With the exception of that cutter, Gorgen used all fastballs, sitting in the 92-93 range.
"Today was just one of those days where I had a little while to get my arm back in shape because I hadn’t had many opportunities," Gorgen said. "Bennigson threw well today, our defense played well, and Satin came up with a hit when we needed it the most. Today was just definitely a totally team effort–we put up 10 hits and five runs, and that wins us ballgames."
A team as well-rounded as Cal should win plenty of ballgames this year, but I’m willing to wager many of them will look more like Thursday’s 14-4 affair than today’s 5-3 contest.
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