Bolstered by a second-consecutive stellar pitching performance, the Dirtbags defeated the Cal Golden Bears 4-0 at Blair Field Saturday, winning the first two games of the season for the first time since 2016.
“I feel good about it all the way around,” Dirtbags head coach Eric Valenzuela said.
The win also ensures the Dirtbags will win the first series of the Valenzuela era.
Sophomore LHP Alfredo Ruiz got the start on the mound for the Dirtbags. He came into the program last year as a prized recruit, but had a disappointing 2019 season, struggling with confidence issues which caused him to be demoted to the bullpen according to then head-coach Troy Buckley.
“I have a lot of confidence this year,” Ruiz said. “I put in so much work in the offseason.”
A second-inning throwing error sent a Cal runner to second base with no outs, drawing groans from the crowd. Ruiz recorded a strikeout, induced a groundout, then covered first base nicely on a grounder down the line to end the inning unscathed to re-energize the fans.
The Dirtbags carried the momentum into the bottom of the third inning as sophomore DH Chase Luttrell singled to left and redshirt senior outfielder Calvin Estrada laid down a sacrifice bunt, putting two runners in scoring position.
As the late afternoon shadows began to creep across home plate, senior first baseman Jacob Hughey rifled a liner off the mound for an RBI groundout, putting the Dirtbags up 1-0.
“That’s a staple of our offense,” Valenzuela said. “We’re gonna put pressure on teams. Whether it’s bunting, late show bunts, bunts for hits, taking bases, just hustle plays.”
Ruiz pitched seven shutout innings, allowing two hits and no walks with 10 strikeouts. Dirtbags starting pitchers have not allowed a run or a walk yet this year.
“There’s a huge difference [in coaching compared to last year],” Ruiz said. “I go out there every day and I want to play for the coaches.”
Estrada built on the energy, sneaking a grounder over third base for a double to lead off the Dirtbags’ half of the sixth inning. Hughey recorded his second productive at-bat of the game, moving Estrada to third. Senior right fielder Aidan Malm laced an RBI single up the middle, bringing Estrada home from third.
“I just expected fastballs,” Malm said. “I got one, and it all worked out.”
A crazy play ensued after Malm advanced to second on a passed ball. Dirtbags sophomore shortstop Tyler Porter was walked on a wild pitch that sent Malm to third. Porter kept running, drawing a throw to second which went into the outfield, allowing Malm to score for a 3-0 Dirtbags lead.
“Those are the little things for me, effort plays are huge,” Valenzuela said.
Redshirt freshman outfielder Connor Kokx led off the bottom of the seventh with a double before stealing third. Junior catcher Thomas Greely hit a sac fly to center making the lead 4-0, a margin too large for Cal to overcome as the Dirtbags sophomore relief pitcher Jonathan Carlos closed out the game.
“There’s a lot of trust, and it’s fun right now,” Malm said.
The Dirtbags will play game three against Cal Sunday, Feb. 16 at 1 p.m. at Bohl Diamond at