Bears Clip Cardinal in Pac-10 Opener

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Dylan Tonneson jumped up out of his stance, the crowd at Evans Diamond erupted and pitcher Blake Smith started walking towards home plate as if the game was over.

Except it wasn't.

With Cal leading Stanford, 7-6, and the Cardinal down to its final strike with the tying run on second base, Smith painted the inside corner against Stanford's Jonathan Kaskow with a 95 MPH fastball -- but didn't get the call.

So Smith dialed it up one more notch and blew a 96 MPH outside heater past a halfhearted swing from Kaskow for the final out, giving the Bears a win in their Pac-10 opener on Saturday afternoon.

"The (home plate umpire) was real tight all game, real tight," Smith said. "So the main was I just wanted to come in and throw strikes.

"It was a big game, big situation. My blood was flowing. I was all amped up and I just took a couple deep breaths and tried to bear down. I was just trying to put that last guy away."

Not until the final strike did the scrappy Cardinal -- which came into the game with a very un-Stanford-like record of 3-8 -- go away for good. Stanford entered the top of the ninth trailing 7-5 and put runners on second and third with only one out against Smith.

But the junior right-hander induced an RBI groundout from Kellen Kiilsgaard for the second out and then struck out Kaskow, who hit a monster two-run home run in the fourth inning, to end the game.

"They scrap and battle, which is kind of the trademark of a Stanford team," Cal coach David Esquer said. "They pitch and play good defense. And kind of the X-factor for us is we'll have to earn everything we get. We've got to stay away from giving them too much."

The Bears came close to giving up an early five-run lead after they struck first with three runs in the second inning and tacked on two more in the third for a 5-0 advantage.

After Cal loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the second, third baseman Michael Brady drove in a run on a sacrifice fly. Tonneson then scored from third base on a wild pitch, and shortstop Brian Guinn drove Austin Booker in from third on an RBI single.

Tonneson struck again in the third inning with a towering two-run home run to left field that bounced on the top of the RSF and plated Kobernus.

But after breezing through the first three innings, Bears starter Matt Flemer ran into trouble in the top of the fourth as the Cardinal struck for four runs, highlighted by Kaskow's shot.

Cal's solution, as it has been for most of this early season, was outstanding work from the bullpen.

Daniel Wolford held Stanford scoreless in the fifth and six innings, and Michael Bugary worked out of a jam with runners on first and second and no outs in the seventh by allowing just one run. The junior left-hander, who struck out pinch hitter Brent Milleville to end the inning, earned his second win of the year and lowered his ERA to 0.90.

"Right now he's given me the most stability out of the bullpen," Esquer said of Bugary. "I know what I'm getting when I go to him. And the beauty is that if they get to Michael, they're going to beat him. He's not going to beat himself. They're going to have to achieve to beat him, and that's where we want to get all our pitchers.

Bugary pitched a scoreless eighth, and Smith earned his first save of the season.

"It's one of those games that you don't want to get away from you," Esquer said. "It would have been a big feather in their cap if they'd come back and won or even tied the game, and it would have been a big defeat for us if we hadn't taken care of business."

Still, Esquer and Smith both said that it was no surprise that Stanford played beyond its current lackluster record.

"These guys have won two or three games and this was one of the toughest games we've played," Smith said.

"But it really doesn't matter that we won this game until we win tomorrow. We've got to win this series. This win will mean a lot more after we win tomorrow -- hopefully."


Contact Matt Kawahara at [email protected]

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