Heading into Tuesday’s matchup with Cal, the USF baseball team’s bullish leadoff man, Joey Railey, was still searching for his first home run of the year.
Against the Bears, he ended his drought in timely fashion.
Railey went 2-for-5, including a sixth-inning grand slam, Brian Chavez went 3-for-4 with three RBIs and the Dons exploded for a huge sixth inning en route to a dominant 13-4 victory over Cal in nonconference play at Benedetti Diamond.
What appeared at first to be a ho-hum first inning proved to be the initial catalyst for the Dons, who were coming off a weekend series win against West Coast Conference foe Gonzaga.
After Railey and Jonnie Knoble led off the bottom of the first with flyouts, Derek Poppert hit what seemed to be an easy putout from third base. However, Poppert hustled down the line and beat the throw to keep the inning alive. After that, Cal starter Nick Nunez fell apart, hitting three straight batters, including Luke Sommer with the bases loaded, to fall behind 1-0.
Chavez followed up and roped a two-run single and, after a pitching change, Matt Lieb poked a bloop single to short right field that scored Sommer to cap off the Dons’ unlikely four-run first inning.
“Any time you can get runs in the first inning, it’s huge,” said Dons coach Nino Giarratano, whose team improved to 24-23. “We got on base with some real hustle plays and then after that we came up with some timely two-out hitting.”
Cal (23-22) battled back, getting two runs inthe fourth inning and one in the fifth inning off Dons reliever Cole Stipovich to cut the deficit to 4-3. However, the one-run deficit would be as close as the Bears would get.
In the seventh, Railey led off with a single, stole second and third (pulling off a double steal with Knoble, who had been hit by a pitch), before scoring on Chris Bacigalupi’s single.
Jon Norfolk, Sommer, Chavez and Daniel Morales all followed with run-scoring hits to load the bases for Railey, who came to the plate for a second time in the inning.
Facing an 0-1 count, Railey drilled a shot to right field off Cal left-hander Mike Cassaday for his first career grand slam, capping off a nine-run sixth inning that put the Dons ahead 13-3.
“He got a fastball by me to get ahead on the count,” Railey said. “I figured lefty on lefty he would throw me a breaking ball and he just hung the pitch up there and I was able to make good contact with it.”
The Dons will face off in a three-game road series against WCC-leading San Diego, starting Friday.
“Our problem all season has been hitting 15 hits in one game and getting two the next,” Giarratano said. “We need to transfer this effort into the weekend against USD.”
USF 13, Cal 4