Miller Leads Bears Over USF in Dante Benedetti Classic

Lara Brucker/Staff

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Correction Appended

Maybe this was the game that saw Kevin Miller turn back into his old self.

The Cal baseball team's sophomore right-hander, who was very hittable in his first seven appearances this year, earned his first victory of the season on Tuesday night.

He picked a big place to give a big performance, allowing just one earned run in 5 2/3 innings to help the Bears to a 4-3 win over San Francisco in the Dante Benedetti Classic at AT&T Park -- home of the San Francisco Giants.

And he did it in Kevin Miller fashion, working efficiently and spotting his fastball with precision.

"It hasn't been there every time out, but that's kind of closer to the old Kevin Miller we saw last year," coach David Esquer said.

"This kind of arena -- he's kind of used to it. He's kind of a big-time pitcher for us. I really have a lot of confidence in the big games that he can come up with a big performance."

Miller still exhibited some shakiness, hitting two batters and putting two runners on in three different innings. But part of what made him so effective last season was his ability to work out of trouble, and that was in full effect against the Diamond Dons.

Miller stranded seven runners and struck out six hitters.

"I think this outing I was just able to spot up really well," Miller said. "Later I had trouble throwing offpseed over for the strike, but I was able to spot up with the fastball and keep them off balance.

"I think the biggest key was spotting up with the fastball. I had a few guys who were looking for it, but if it's out enough or it's up and out, you're not going to hit it."

Miller evened his record at 1-1, although the outcome was in doubt until the final pitch.

Fittingly, in the bottom of the ninth inning, San Francisco almost pulled off a giant comeback.

Trailing 4-1 going into the inning, the Dons struck for two runs off of closer Blake Smith and actually had the tying and winning runs in scoring position when Dane Braunecker grounded out to end the game.

"They always play us tough," Esquer said. "They just do. We've accepted it. We say, 'Hey, we're not going to come in here and roll them by any means.' We never have, we probably never will. That's just kind of the way it is."

Until that point, the game had been all Cal.

Smith homered in the top of the fourth inning to break a scoreless tie, taking an outside fastball over the wall in left-center field. It was an impressive display of power on a night when two towering fly balls by catcher Dylan Tonneson were knocked down near the warning track.

The Bears tacked on another run in the fourth when first baseman Mark Canha singled, moved to second on a balk and scored on a single to left by Jeff Kobernus. They also pushed runs across in the fifth and eighth innings, one of which came on by far the weirdest play of the season.

With one out in the fifth, center fielder Brett Jackson struck out swinging on a pitch in the dirt that got away from catcher Ryan Lipkin. Lipkin's throw to first rolled all the way down the first base line by the visiting dugout and the speedy Jackson came all the way around to score.

"Haven't seen a four-base error before," Esquer said. "And it was the difference in the game."

Jackson scored again in the eighth, reaching on a leadoff double and crossing the plate on an RBI single by shortstop Brian Guinn.

Bears reliever Michael Bugary entered with a runner on second and two outs in the sixth and struck out Robert Abel to end the inning, recording his team-leading 14th appearance. Bugary pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings, lowering his ERA to 1.32.


Correction: Wednesday, April 1, 2009
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the final score of Tuesday's game was 4-1. The Daily Californian regrets the error.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

Contact Matt Kawahara at [email protected]

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