Bears Cut Their Losses in Weekend Set With UNLV

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Baseball players are taught to block out the environment outside of their playing field.

This may sound elementary to athletes who hit, catch, field and throw in a quiet and unpretentious Pleasantville.

But try a glitzy city like Las Vegas.

And try it on Super Bowl weekend.

This is exactly the setting the Cal baseball team ran into this past weekend when it traveled to Nevada to open up the 2002 season with a three-game set against UNLV.

The Bears (1-2) dropped the final two games of their three-game series with the Rebels after earning a shutout in the season opener.

Cal head coach David Esquer did not cite off-the-field distractions as a factor in his team's two losses. In his view, UNLV (2-1) just outplayed Cal.

"The team's pretty focused and understands what's at stake," Esquer said. "Both of the games were winnable, but Vegas was just better on those days."

The final game of the series was one Cal had within reach, but failed to seize.

After falling behind 2-0, the Rebels tagged starter Kyle Crist for six runs in the second inning, highlighted by Garrett Shitanishi's three-run blast.

The Bears mounted a comeback and got to within one at 6-5 after Conor Jackson belted a two-run home run in the fifth inning, and Nelson ripped his second big hit of the series, a solo shot in the sixth.

But the Rebels had another big inning up their sleeves, and proceeded to torch the Cal bullpen for four more runs in the bottom half of the sixth inning to seal the victory.

Saturday, the Bears rallied from a 1-0 deficit in the seventh inning when freshman Justin Nelson laced an RBI double down the right-field line to score Jeff Dragicevich from third base. Junior Ben Conley followed up by driving in Nelson with a single to right center.

But the bullpen failed to seal the deal for Cal, giving up three runs in the bottom of the seventh. Brent Johnson's two-run double off Bears' reliever Joe Todoroff, and an RBI single by David Trujillo put UNLV on top for good.

The Bears began the series in impressive fashion, getting a sterling performance from righthander Trevor Hutchinson, who gave up only three hits while striking out 11 in seven innings.

The senior All-American displayed pinpoint control, throwing 60 of his 77 pitches for strikes en route to a 2-0 shutout against the Rebels Friday.

"He was just dominant," Esquer said of Hutchinson. "If that's a prelude of things to come, it's going to be an exciting season for him."

In addition to Hutchinson's gem on the mound Friday, the Bears got a surprising lift at the plate from sophomore first baseman James Holder.

With only one career hit under his belt prior to the game, Holder began the second inning with a homer off UNLV starter Robbie Van to give Cal a 1-0 lead.

The Bears added a run in the eighth when Jackson's RBI triple scored Dragicevich. Jackson finished the game with two of Cal's four hits.

Sophomore closer Matt Brown replaced Hutchinson in the eighth and pitched two perfect innings to notch his first save of the season.

"It was just a tremendous pitching performance from Hutchinson and Brown," said Esquer. "We did get some big hits from Holder and Jackson, but the name of the game was pitching tonight."

The Bears return to Evans Diamond tomorrow at 2 p.m., when they host San Jose State in their home opener.


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