Bears Weather Rice's Comeback Bid to Win Game One of Series

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Erik Johnson is pitching so well right now that Cal baseball coach David Esquer might think twice the next time he decides to take the sophomore out of a game. He might not be able to afford to.

Esquer removed Johnson from Thursday night's 8-6 win over No. 9 Rice before the seventh inning as a precautionary move -- the right-hander missed his last start because of tightness in his back. At that point, Johnson had thrown six scoreless, allowed two hits and struck out six.

"He was losing a little bit of steam," Esquer said. "After last week, it's not worth risking that."

Sound reasoning, especially since relievers Daniel Wolford and Brian Diemer gave up only six runs in the final three innings -- not enough to lose the game but definitely enough to make it interesting.

The Owls, once trailing 6-0, came as close as having the tying run on second base and the winning run on first with one out in the ninth. Right fielder ChadMozingo then scorched a line drive up the middle that Bears second baseman Brian Guinn speared in the air. Guinn threw to first too late to double the runner, but first baseman Mark Canha saw that Rice's Daniel Gonzales-Luna was too far off second and threw behind him to complete the game-ending double play.

Diemer escaped with the save. Johnson was spared the indignation of watching his outing go to waste.

Instead, Cal's Friday starter improved his record to 3-0. He hasn't given up an earned run in 19 innings this season and has walked only four batters in that span.

Johnson struck out the side in the bottom of the first inning and got another punchout in a big at-bat after allowing a one-out triple in the third. He set Owls No. 9 hitter Jimmy Comerota down swinging for the second out, then walked leadoff man Michael Ratterree and got left fielder Michael Fuda to ground into an inning-ending fielder's choice.

A single by Comerota in the sixth was the only other runner that Johnson allowed.

"Erik showed he can match up with any No. 1 that we've seen," Esquer said.

Rice's No. 1, left-handed sophomore Taylor Wall, fell victim to efficiency at its finest. All six baserunners that he allowed came around to score.

Bears catcher Chadd Krist homered in the first inning, driving in Danny Oh and Mark Canha. When Krist came up in the sixth inning, Wall walked him intentionally, putting two runners on for third baseman Tony Renda. The strategy backfired. Renda made the Owls (8-6) pay with his first career home run, giving the Bears (8-3) a seemingly safe 6-0 lead.

Of course, with Johnson out, it wasn't. Wolford walked the first batter he faced in the seventh, which set the tone for the rest of his night. He and Diemer combined to walk in three runs. A fourth scored on a call of catcher's interference against Krist. Aside from a solo home run by Anthony Rendon, Rice found itself back in the game without having to hit its way there.

A solo homer from Canha and an RBI infield single by the aptly named Chad Bunting with two outs in the top of the eighth proved to be the difference.

"In the face of a lot of adversity on the road, where it looked like somebody was going to come back and maybe steal one from us, there was no panic at all,"Esquer said. "None from our coaches and none from our guys on the field.

"Until we weren't winning anymore, I think our guys just figured, hey, let's keep pushing."

Game two of this four-game series at Reckling Park in Houston, Texas, begins this afternoon at 4:30. Freshman left-hander Justin Jones will start for Cal.

Tags: CAL BASEBALL, DAVID ESQUER, ERIK JOHNSON, CAL, TONY RENDA, CHADD KRIST


Contact Matt Kawahara at [email protected]



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